US tariffs on Chinese imports are significant “leverage” in the relationship between Washington and Beijing, according to President Joe Biden’s top trade official.
US Trade Representative Katherine Tai said protecting American trade interests against China’s plans to dominate important industries such as semiconductors was the top priority.
“We need to be keeping our eye on the ball on this bigger picture,” Tai said, adding that removing tariffs would have a limited effect on controlling short-term inflation.
Tai’s comments indicated that she was still pushing for Biden to maintain tariffs on China as he deliberates over whether to lift some of the so-called Section 301 duties on Chinese imports as a way to try to ease high inflation.
“The China tariffs are, in my view, a significant piece of leverage – and a trade negotiator never walks away from leverage,” she said.
‘Strengthen American Competitiveness’
Tai added that the key challenge for Biden’s administration was converting “this leverage into a strategic programme that will strengthen American competitiveness and defend our interests in a global economy in which China will continue to play.”
Tariffs and other trade tools can help improve the competitive position of the US economy in the medium and long term, Tai said, adding: “With respect to short-term challenges, there is a limit to what we can do with respect to, especially, inflation.”
Biden is intensifying White House discussions on whether to scrap tariffs on a range of Chinese goods to curb inflation.
Punitive US duties of up to 25% remain on Chinese goods valued at some $370 billion when they were imposed in 2018 and 2019 – years with low inflation.
Abolishing tariffs on about $100 billion of goods could boost China’s exports to the US by $19 billion, or total export growth by 0.6 percentage points and add about 0.1 percentage point to China’s annual economic growth, BNP Paribas estimated.
- Reuters, with additional editing by George Russell