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Cedar Rapids, Iowa 52401
A few years ago, global trade policy was big news in Iowa.
Then-President Donald Trump was following through on his promise to instigate trade wars with our foreign economic partners, especially China. Almost everyone engaged in Iowa politics recognized it as a really bad idea — Democrats, Republicans, farmers, experts, the news media — a rare moment of statewide unity in a divisive era.
Much of Trump’s trade agenda remains in place after about nine months under President Joe Biden. Trade wars still are a really bad idea. The main thing that’s changed is we’re not outraged by it anymore, for some reason.
Biden is doing a lot of the same stuff Trump did, but he does it with a smile and a wink instead of with mean tweets.
Biden administration officials this week delivered updates on trade talks with their Chinese counterparts. Trump tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese goods will stay in place and the U.S. might slap on additional restrictions if China doesn’t play nice. After nearly a year in power, the new regime calls this a "the starting point.”
To be fair to Biden, we should recognize communist bureaucrats are not good-faith negotiators. They have not followed through on the “Phase One” agreement brokered by Trump, in which they committed to increase purchases of U.S. goods, such as Iowa soybeans. They are known to steal intellectual property, manipulate currency and artificially prop up their own industries, all of which further complicates trade negotiations.
The thing is, though, tariffs don’t seem to have any beneficial impact on those dynamics. They make both countries poorer while failing to achieve their intended goal of leveraging negotiations in our favor.
The U.S. brought in a record-setting $7.6 billion in tariffs last month, according to U.S. census data. Tariff collections in five of the last six months were higher than they ever were under Trump, according to trade policy analyst Dan Anthony.
It is Americans, not the Chinese, who end up paying for that through higher prices and reduced productivity. And for what? Not much.
Years of tariffs have not coaxed the Chinese government to stop violating international economic norms. They also have not brought companies back to the U.S. from overseas, like Trump predicted. Foreign investment in China was steady as Trump escalated the trade war in 2018 and 2019, according to research published this month by the U.S.-based 21st Century China Center. Scholars found U.S. firms were not more likely to exit China due to trade restrictions.
The U.S. trade war with China has been a disaster, but the Biden team is going out of its way to keep Trump-era trade policies in place. Trump unilaterally imposed restrictions under a policy called Section 301, a move that faces legal challenges from U.S. companies. The Biden administration is defending it in court.
What’s more, the federal government may again turn to Section 301. One official this week called it “a very, very important tool.”
In another era, not long ago, that would have been cause for concern in Iowa. Now, few are paying attention.
Biden is doing a lot of the same stuff Trump did, but he does it with a smile and a wink instead of with mean tweets. It’s just our old Uncle Joe, jeopardizing the world economy.
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