The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) rebuked China over its “coercive and unfair” trade practices Monday in an annual report outlining the Biden administration’s trade agenda.
“The Biden administration recognizes that China’s coercive and unfair trade practices harm American workers, threaten our technological edge, weaken our supply chain resiliency and undermine our national interests,” the USTR report states. “Addressing the China challenge will require a comprehensive strategy and more systematic approach than the piecemeal approach of the recent past.”
And bingo: next section is about making sure the rules are the right rules, rather than assuming following them will address the things the administration cares about, like reducing inequality. pic.twitter.com/LqXU18MDl5
— Todd N. Tucker (@toddntucker) March 1, 2021
President Joe Biden inherited multiple initiatives on U.S.-China trade relations from former President Donald Trump. Biden said in December that he would not roll back the import tariffs Trump levied on roughly $335 billion of Chinese consumer goods, nor would he renegotiate the Phase One agreement signed between the Trump administration and Beijing.
USTR nominee Katherine Tai also expressed concerns about China’s trade practices and called import tariffs a “legitimate tool in the trade toolbox” during her confirmation hearing last week before the Senate Finance Committee.
If confirmed, Tai would be instrumental in enforcing the administration’s trade agenda. She notably questioned the longstanding establishment consensus on trade liberalization and economic engagement with China.
“For a very long time our trade policies were based on the assumption that the more we traded with each other, and more liberalized our trade, the more peace and prosperity there would be,” Tai told senators. She added that this approach has instead led to less prosperity and lower labor and environmental standards.
Jamieson Greer, who served as chief of staff to former USTR Robert Lighthizer, told Reuters that Tai’s position on US-China trade relations and import tariffs suggested a continuation of the Trump administration’s stance. (RELATED: Joe Biden Reportedly Will Keep Trump’s Sanctions On Chinese Tech Threats)
The USTR stated in Monday’s report that the Biden administration would use “all available tools” to take on China’s “detrimental actions” on trade. The report cited actions such as barriers to market access, supply chain risks, subsidies to state-backed firms, coercive technology transfers and intellectual property theft.
Almost all of the issues mentioned in the report were frequently cited by Trump trade officials as well. Actions taken by the previous administration included blocking Chinese state-owned firm Huawei from American chip-making equipment and launching a Section 301 investigation into China’s technology licensing practices.
One major difference, the report suggests, is that the Biden administration may rely more on multilateral agreements and international institutions as opposed to the Trump administration’s preference for bilateral agreements.
Another difference is that the Biden administration plans to make climate change and racial equality a core part of its trade agenda, according to the report.
USTR’s position indicates Biden could be tougher on China than previous Democratic presidents. Biden said during his first foreign policy address in early February that his administration would hold China accountable for its economic abuses.
The president is also expected to sign an executive order aimed at cutting U.S. reliance on foreign countries for critical supply chains such as pharmaceuticals and semiconductors, two industries where China has made great strides in recent years.