Despite concerns about inflation and rising consumer prices, President Joseph Biden has yet to decide whether to lift tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on billions of dollars in imported goods. To help make this decision, Biden and his advisers could consult a source they should be familiar with—Biden’s campaign website.
If one reads the Biden-Harris campaign website, which remains active, one can find the following statements about tariffs:
– “Trump’s tariff war with China cost the U.S. 300,000 jobs in its first year.”
– “In the wake of Trump’s corporate giveaway and his tariff war, Harley-Davidson announced it would slash 800 manufacturing jobs, repurchase almost $700 million worth of its own stock, and shift some of its production overseas.”
Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell wrote, “Biden’s campaign website argued that Trump’s trade wars with allies and foes alike had cost hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs. In a 2019 speech, Biden said: ‘President Trump may think he’s being tough on China. All that he’s delivered as a consequence of that is American farmers, manufacturers and consumers losing and paying more.’”
Three years later, Biden has continued the Trump administration’s trade policy with few changes. “President Joe Biden said on Friday that he has not yet made a decision on whether to cut some U.S. tariffs on imports from China, saying his administration was reviewing them ‘one at a time,’” reported Reuters.
There is no reason the Biden administration should have continued Trump’s unsuccessful trade policy toward China. “Looking back at the China trade policy of the Trump administration, the biggest lesson is that unilateralism simply doesn’t work, at least not against a major power like China,” writes Henry Gao, a top trade expert and an Associate Professor of Law at Singapore Management University, in a January 2021 study for the National Foundation for American Policy. “Despite the tumultuous two-and-half-year trade war and the Phase 1 deal hailed as an ‘unprecedented’ deal promising ‘a more balanced trade relationship and a more level playing field for American workers and companies,’ there has been little progress on the issues U.S. businesses and the Trump administration objected to in China’s trade and economic policies.”
A June 2022 analysis from the Peterson Institute for International Economics (PIEE) explained how reducing tariffs would help consumers. “Secretary Yellen and others in the administration should think more broadly about trade liberalization and consider reducing duties beyond those placed on China,” according to PIEE’s Megan Hogan and Yilin Wang. “A 2 percentage point tariff-equivalent reduction across a broad array of goods entering the US market could deliver an estimated one-time reduction of 1.3 percentage points in CPI inflation, currently raging at 8.3 percent. That reduction would save $797 per US household.
“While it would not be practical (or even legal) for President Biden to slash tariffs by 2 percentage points across the board, the Biden administration could take many individual steps to achieve trade liberalization that is equivalent to a 2-percentage point reduction in tariffs.” (Emphasis added.)
On Meet the Press, host Chuck Todd asked Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo about the tariffs. “We should be clear about what lifting tariffs would and wouldn’t do, right?” she said. “Like, lifting tariffs isn’t going to bring down top-line inflation in a very significant way. What it will do potentially is help consumers on certain, as you say, household goods. And so, for that reason, given where inflation is, I think it could make sense to do it.
“But, you know, the president is being thoughtful about this, unlike President Trump. Those tariffs that he imposed made no sense. And so, we are briefing him, and I expect he’ll make a decision shortly. And if he decides to lift certain tariffs, it will be because he knows he has to think about doing everything he possibly can to provide any relief to consumers. But he’s going to do it in a thoughtful way that is strategic, and also most important—most important to him and to all of us—is without hurting American workers.”
It is contradictory for Biden officials to say Trump’s tariffs “made no sense” while maintaining those tariffs for the past 18 months. It is also incorrect to say tariffs help workers. A small percentage of workers shielded from competition could benefit from tariffs, but since all workers are also consumers, the higher prices caused by tariffs harms U.S. workers more broadly.
During the 2020 presidential campaign, Joe Biden correctly argued that the tariffs imposed during the Trump administration were terrible economic policy. It might be time for the Biden administration’s trade team to review the Biden campaign website.