Biden's commerce coverage will goal China and embrace allies

© Reuters. Chinese and US flags flutter near the Bund in Shanghai

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President-elect Joe Biden has pledged to work more closely with U.S. allies to confront China on trade and it is considered unlikely that his predecessor's tariffs on imported steel, aluminum, Chinese and other European goods will be reset soon.

"I've been told that if you close your eyes you may not be able to tell the difference between Biden and Trump's trade agendas," said Nasim Fussell, former Republican trade advisor on the Senate Treasury. "Biden won't be fast enough to unravel some of these tariffs."

Biden, who took the presidency after days of the vote on Saturday, was elected with strong support from unions and progressives who were skeptical of previous free trade deals and will therefore face pressure to maintain protection for vulnerable industries such as steel and aluminum.

Its top economic priority will be to revitalize a coronavirus-ravaged economy, so trade deals are likely to take a backseat to the economic stimulus and infrastructure development.

Biden advisors say he will seek to end "artificial trade wars" with Europe and immediately consult with US allies before deciding on the future of US tariffs on Chinese goods in order to create "collective leverage" against Beijing to reach.

Former Trump and Obama administration officials said that in order to reset tariffs on Chinese goods, Biden would likely demand the same basic concessions from China as Trump: curb massive subsidies to state-controlled companies and end measures forcing U.S. companies to transfer Technology for Chinese colleagues and opening up the markets for digital services for US technology companies (another large Biden donor group).

"Every president will have these on their agenda, but they will be really difficult," said Jamieson Greer, who served as chief of staff in the US Trade Representative's office until April.


A Biden administration will be more predictable for trade after Trump's sudden shifts and tariff threats, said Wendy Cutler, a former USTR trade negotiator.

"The days of advisors trying to implement what they learn from tweeting the president will be in the past," said Cutler, vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute.

It is unlikely that Biden will attempt to revive the Trans-Pacific Partnership, the 12-country trade deal with the Pacific region negotiated by the Obama administration but abandoned by Trump in 2017.

Instead, reforming the badly damaged World Trade Organization with new rules against subsidies and other non-market practices is seen as a greater priority.

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