US-China trade war
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US President Joe Biden at the White House in Washington on Friday. Photo: EPA-EFE

Biden administration shrugs off pressure to remove Trump-era China trade war tariffs

  • More than 30 organisations signed a letter to Biden officials imploring them to work with China towards the eventual goal of ‘full removal of tariffs’
  • ‘We are conducting a robust, strategic review of our economic relationship with China to create effective policy,’ says US Trade Representative’s office
The administration of US President Joe Biden appeared to shrug off a new pressure campaign from business groups urging Washington to remove Trump-era tariffs on Beijing.
More than 30 organizations representing a wide range of industries had signed a letter this week to Biden’s top trade and economic officials, imploring them to work with China towards the eventual goal of “full removal of tariffs” that are still in place from the US-China trade war.

In response to the letter, the US Trade Representative’s office did not comment on the status of the tariffs, but noted instead that America’s economy had grown rapidly in recent months, adding that the administration was still reviewing its China policy.

“In the first half of this year, the US economy grew at the fastest rate in nearly 40 years and more jobs have been created in our first six months than under any other administration in history,” Adam Hodge, a spokesman for the US Trade Representative’s office, said in a statement to the Post.


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“As we make historic infrastructure investments and Build Back Better, we are conducting a robust, strategic review of our economic relationship with China to create effective policy that delivers results for American workers, farmers and businesses and puts them in a stronger position to compete with China and the rest of the world.”

The letter and the administration’s response to it were the latest sign from Washington of just how far the mood has shifted in recent years on China policy.

The two highly polarised political parties in Washington have found themselves in rare agreement in their assessment of China as a major economic and geopolitical threat to the US.

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And as that shift has emerged, so has a new willingness throughout the capital to criticise American corporations seen as capitulating to Beijing rather than putting US economic interests first.

Nick Iacovella, communications director for the Coalition for a Prosperous America, which advocates for domestic US producers, called the letter “tone deaf”.

“The only interest they have is their bottom line, which is being threatened by tariffs that protect US workers and industry from China’s economic warfare,” he said.

“If the Biden administration is serious about Building Back Better, they should promptly ignore this letter and instead continue efforts to reshore critical industries, strengthen US industrial capacity, and create high-quality American jobs.”

Containers stacked at Lianyungang port, in China’s eastern Jiangsu province on July 22. Photo: STR via AFP

The letter from the US industry groups, which included apparel producers, pharmaceutical manufacturers and multiple agriculture groups, said that China has already “met important benchmarks and commitments that benefit American businesses, farmers, ranchers, and workers”.

“We urge the administration to engage industry and other stakeholders in open, transparent consultations, and develop benchmarks and a timeline for addressing ongoing economic issues with China, leading to more negotiated commitments on China’s structural barriers and full removal of tariffs,” the letter said.

According to data compiled by researcher Chad Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, China continues to lag far behind the purchasing targets it agreed to when the trade deal was signed in January 2020.

In the agreement, China committed to buying more US goods in exchange for a partial cut in American tariffs.

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“With 1.5 years of the phase one deal now complete, China is on pace to purchase only a bit more than 60 per cent of goods needed to reach the two year commitment,” Bown wrote last week. “Its purchases are currently running about US$100 billion short of the prorated targets.”

At a regular press briefing on Friday, White House press secretary Jen Psaki said that Biden had no problem using tariffs when he felt they were needed, but added that Washington should not go at it alone.

“The president’s always going to use every tool in his toolbox, including tariffs, to fight against unfair trade practices that hurt American workers, businesses, and farmers,” she said.

“And he’s been very clear that he thinks that go-it-alone strategy is a losing one. We’re stronger when we work with our allies and unite the world’s GDP,” she said. “I know we’ve talked about an ongoing review, including tariffs. I don’t have any preview for you or timeline for that conclusion.”

Additional reporting by Owen Churchill and Robert Delaney

This article appeared in the South China Morning Post print edition as: Biden ignores call to end Trump-era tariffs