Trade deficit with China became a major issue in 2016 American election. Touching the sensibilities of American working class, Donald Trump accused China of protectionist trade policies such as export duties and quotas, state subsidies, restrictions on market access and intellectual properties rights theft. After assuming presidential office, Donald Trump imposed tariffs on Chinese goods. It intended to encourage consumers to buy American goods. By estimation, the US has imposed tariffs on more than $ 360 billion of Chinese goods and China has retaliated with tariffs on more than $ 110 billion of US products.
President Trump exploited the growing domestic concerns by making Sino-US trade a key part of his foreign policy. In Dec 2017, US released the new US national security strategy. It says that China is a revisionist power with goals “antithetical to the interests and values of US”.
President Trump also ordered to specially investigate China’s policies on intellectual property, technology transfer and innovation. Shortly thereafter, United States Trade Representative (USTR) investigation concluded that the abundance of cheap steel and aluminum import compromises the domestic production of US.
Notwithstanding the strained relations, president Trump and Xi took steps towards rapprochement in the first month of 2017, agreeing to establish a 100 days plan to resolve disagreement over trade. However, the underlying trade issue remained. Trump instructed the USTR to investigate whether cheap steel imports posed a threat to US national security.
As of Jan 2020, tensions have finally eased as the two sides have signed a partial ‘Phase One Deal’. The document agreed to roll back tariffs and trade purchase. China agreed to buy additional $ 200 billion of American goods over the following the two years. The rapid spread of the coronavirus outbreak starting in January 2020 effectively postponed negotiations indefinitely. Trump deal halted the trade war but it did not put an end to economic hostilities. US tariffs on Chinese exports jumped sixfold between 2018 to 2020, but tariffs failed to decouple the two economies. The Trump policy has failed to change Chinese trade practices.
Contrary to the growing demands of US business community, the new US president Joe Biden so far has amplified his predecessor’s policies and implementing additional sanctions. Biden’s words describe his policy, “a battle between the utility of democracies in the 21th century and autocracies”. Yale University’s Stephen Roach questioned President Joe Biden’s China policy, “why has he singled out China trump policy as one that is worth sustaining, when he has literally tried to wipe the slate clean of every other potential Trump policy that he inherited”.
To relieve trade war tension with new American administration, China has pushed the US to cancel tariffs in a virtual meeting between vice premier Lin He and US-trade representative Katherine Tai. Tai said in a speech that the White House would restart a process to exempt certain goods from Trump era tariffs.
The Biden administration said it would not immediately remove the Trump administrations’ tariffs and would require that Beijing upholds its trade commitments. It gives a clear look at how the Biden administration plans to deal with a rising economic and security threat for China.
President Biden campaigned against Trump tariffs on Chinese imports as hurting US consumers, farmers and manufacturers. But more than eight months into his presidency, Mr. Biden has announced few policies that differentiate his approach, beyond warmer appeals to American allies. In addition to the tariffs on Chinese goods, the president has maintained restrictions on Chinese companies, access to US technology and expand the list of Chinese officials under sanctions by the US for their role in undermining Hong Kong’s democratic institutions.
President Biden’s era also accelerates the geopolitical rivalry between China and US. Nuclear powered submarine to Australia and the Quad meeting it shows harmony on how to deal with China’s influence. On 14 June, 2021, at their annual summit in Brussels, NATO leaders declared that China presents a global security risk, The traditionally Russia focused military alliance for the first time shifted its focus to China. Craig Allen, president of US-China Business Council, said, “Joe Biden has done what he said he would do—he has collected the allies and got them aligned in a similar manner on similar issue in a way that greatly strengthen America’s position vis a vis China”.
The Biden administration desires to work with China on climate change. “China has made it very clearer if you want cooperation on climate change, we want you to lift the tariffs or we want more cooperation on tariffs”. During the G 7 summit, Biden pushed his European counterparts to adopt a tougher stance with China and singled out Beijing for its “non-market economic practices”.
Fewer than three months after it was agreed upon, progress on the EU-China comprehensive agreement on investments has come to a halt as a result of tit for tat sanctions due to alleged human rights and forced labor issue in Xinjiang. EU is moving closer to a hardline US stance. On March 22, EU sanctioned four Chinese individuals, including a top security director, for alleged human rights abuses in Xinjiang. While symbolic in nature, this is the first time in three decades that the EU has imposed sanctions against China. Similar steps were followed by US, UK and Canada by the same day.
Pew Research Center finds that more than three quarters of America have an unfavorable view of China. The US senate in a rare moment of bipartisanship passed a bill ‘the US innovation and Competition Act 2021’, that would invest $ 250 billion in science and technology aimed at boosting US competition with China. “I do not think that politically it will be very difficult for the Biden administration to remove tariffs without meaningful concessions from China. The CIA announced it is establishing a new China mission center, in yet another sign of the Biden heavy focus on countering Beijing and its expanding influence across the globe.
According to Chad P Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson institute for international economics, who tracks the purchases. He said, “so far, China is on a pace to fall short of its 2021 purchasing commitments by more than 30% after falling short by more than 40% last year”. According to Mr. Brown, China still maintains tariffs on 58.3% of its import from the US. The US imposes tariffs on 66.4% of the products it brings in from China. The US economy has mainly been hit on the consumer side by the trade dispute where as in China, the export has suffered the biggest losses.
President Xi says that the dependence of the international industrial chain on our country has formed a power countermeasure and deterred capability for foreign parties to artificially cut off supply.
Hillary Hoffower writes, “America’s automakers do not have enough semiconductor chips to make as many cars as people want to buy. Every other product from toys to computers that heads a chip will be in short supply too”. It is estimated that the US accounts for just 12% of global chips production and Asia accounts for a whopping 75%.
How to protect American workers and businesses from predatory trade practices without hurting the parts of US economy that rely on Chinese goods. Kelly Ann Shaw, the former deputy director of the National Economic Council said it is easy to criticize tariffs but difficult to come up with a better option. Tariffs hurt US consumer and manufacturers. More than 30 business associations sent a letter to the administration complaining the tariffs are “costly and burdensome”.
The irony is that three years after Trump tariffs were initiated to fix the US trade deficit, bilateral trade between the US and China has now rebounded to all-time highs, China’s trade surplus has increase, and the US deficit has gotten worse. US-China trade war tensions and their effects on global value chain will impact industry structures, investment, innovation and consumer welfare across the world.