Biden once slammed Trump's China tariffs. Now he's building on them: ANALYSIS

Biden’s tariffs on $18B worth of Chinese goods focus on strategic industries.

May 14, 2024, 5:31 PM

Although the Biden administration won't admit it, new tariffs on China announced Tuesday represent a major shift for President Joe Biden.

Back in 2019, Biden slammed then-President Donald Trump's move to impose tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese imports.

"Trump doesn't get the basics. He thinks his tariffs are being paid by China," Biden said at the time. "Any freshman econ student could tell you that the American people are paying his tariffs."

Then in 2020, while campaigning for the White House, Biden vowed to remove Trump's tariffs if elected.

Studies have shown that American consumers largely bore the brunt of those taxes.

PHOTO: President Joe Biden sits down to sign a document imposing major new tariffs on electric vehicles, semiconductors, solar equipment and medical supplies imported from China in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, May 14, 2024.
President Joe Biden sits down to sign a document imposing major new tariffs on electric vehicles, semiconductors, solar equipment and medical supplies imported from China in the Rose Garden of the White House in Washington, DC, May 14, 2024.
Susan Walsh/AP

But now, not only is Biden keeping those Trump-era tariffs in place, he actually is building on them.

It's true that Biden's new tariffs on $18 billion worth of Chinese imports are narrowly focused on a few strategic industries. At a Rose Garden event unveiling the new actions, Biden touted it as a "smart approach" to target goods such as electric vehicles, solar cells, steel, aluminum and certain medical equipment.

But he is maintaining many of the broad-based tariffs from the Trump-era that he was once highly critical of.

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai was repeatedly pressed on the apparent reversal during the White House daily press briefing.

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"In terms of the price that Americans paid for in the previous era, some of that -- maybe a lot of it -- was about the chaos and unpredictability that it created and the escalation that resulted," Tai said.

Tai added that in addition to looking at prices, the yearslong review of the Trump-era tariffs also investigated whether they had changed China's behavior.

"Not only have we not seen the problematic practices subsidize in some areas, we have seen them get worse. And in that light, there is actually no reason for us, no justification to relieving the tariff burdens on the trade with Beijing," she said.

PHOTO: U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, May 14, 2024.
U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai speaks during a press briefing at the White House in Washington, May 14, 2024.
Elizabeth Frantz/Reuters

Still, the National Retail Federation is calling on Biden to repeal those tariffs, arguing that "as consumers continue to battle inflation, the last thing the administration should be doing is placing additional taxes on imported products that will be paid by U.S. importers and eventually U.S. consumers."

Biden's shift partly reflects the political environment -- with both Biden and Trump fighting to appear tougher on China in what's shaping up to be a 2024 rematch -- but it also reflects growing recognition that China's trade practices are undercutting American manufacturers and workers.

Ambassador Tai argues that China's economic model is built on a "system of state support that is built to dominate and take over entire industries." Tai adds that Beijing's subsidies aim to "corner" the world market and achieve "dominance" and "dependency."

Greta Peisch, the former general counsel for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, told ABC News: "Things have changed and evolved. There was a hope that China would become more of a free market over time. We've seen the opposite in recent years. It's been trade distorted by China's practices."

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