Biden says he won't immediately remove Trump's tariffs on China

Key Points
  • President-elect Joe Biden said he won't immediately remove the elevated tariffs that the Trump administration imposed on China, according to The New York Times.
  • Biden intends to first review the existing U.S.-China agreement and develop a "coherent strategy" with traditional allies in Europe and Asia.
  • Biden said he also wants to build a bipartisan consensus at home for investing in American industry.
US Vice President Joe Biden attends a business leader breakfast at a hotel in Beijing on December 5, 2013.
Lintao Zhang | AFP | Getty Images

President-elect Joe Biden will not immediately remove tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump on China, a legacy of the outgoing administration's trade war, as he moves to develop a strategy with U.S. allies on how to best deal with Beijing, according to The New York Times. 

"I'm not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs. I'm not going to prejudice my options," Biden told columnist Thomas Friedman in an interview that touched on the incoming president's domestic and foreign policy priorities.

Biden said he first wants to conduct a full review of the "phase one" trade deal that the Trump administration reached with China, according to The Times.

The deal effectively declared a truce in the trade war launched by outgoing President Trump, who sought to force Beijing to change its trade and industrial practices by imposing escalating rounds of tariffs.

Biden said he wants to consult with traditional U.S. allies in Asia and Europe "so we can develop a coherent strategy" before making a move on tariffs, according to the Times. 

"The best China strategy, I think, is one which gets every one of our — or at least what used to be our — allies on the same page," Biden told Friedman. "It's going to be a major priority for me in the opening weeks of my presidency to try to get us back on the same page with our allies."

Trump dismissed international cooperation in favor of what he described as an "America first" trade policy. One of his first acts as president was to pull the U.S. out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration with 11 other nations. The agreement, which was never ratified by Congress, excluded China and was a central part of Obama's efforts to cement U.S. influence in Asia.  

As Trump pursued a trade war with China, he threatened broad tariffs against European states such as Germany, alienating traditional allies with close economic ties to the U.S. who share many of the same criticisms of Beijing's trade practices. 

China recently signed the world's largest trade deal with 14 Asia-Pacific countries, called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership, which excludes the United States. Some of the members of the China-led agreement were part of the U.S. negotiated TPP.

Under the phase-one deal, China agreed to purchase $200 billion worth of U.S. goods and services through 2021, though it has not kept pace with those targets, according to the Peterson Institute for International Economics. China also agreed to develop an action plan to strengthen intellectual property protection and end forced technology transfers.

The phase-one trade deal left in place 25% tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. Those tariffs have hurt U.S companies who are dependent on supply chains in China. There is an exclusion process that allows companies to plead their case before the U.S. Trade Representative for exemptions.

Trump to leave Biden with a 'whole pile' of trade problems with China: CSIS
Trump to leave Biden with a 'whole pile' of trade problems with China: CSIS

Biden said the key to dealing with China is building leverage, but told the Times that "we don't have it yet." The president-elect said he wants to create leverage with Beijing by building a bipartisan consensus for strengthening American industry through massive investments.

"I want to make sure we're going to fight like hell by investing in America first," Biden was quoted as saying, citing research in energy, biotech, advanced materials and artificial intelligence as areas that could use more government investment.

"I'm not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home and in our workers" and in education, he added.

For more on Biden's plans for his upcoming presidency, read Friedman's full column in the New York Times.