Biden officials to enforce Trump trade deal with China, work toward ‘durable coexistence’

The Biden administration on Monday unveiled its long awaited approach to trade relations with China. U.S. trade representative Katherine Tai said she would restart trade talks with Beijing, but maintain most Trump-era tariffs on china. Nick Schifrin explains.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Today, the Biden administration unveiled its long-awaited approach to trade relations with China.

    U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said that she would restart trade talks with Beijing, but maintain most Trump era tariffs on China.

    Nick Schifrin is here to explain.

    So, Nick, hello.

    Tell us, what exactly did the U.S. trade representative announce?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    That Biden will not move away from Trump era tariffs, will not launch a full-scale negotiation with China, and will instead enforce President Trump's trade deal with China. That trade deal is known as phase one, in which Beijing promised to buy about $200 billion of American goods.

    But the Peterson Institute says that China has only bought 62 cents for every $1 it's promised. Ambassador Tai said today that she would hold China accountable to its commitments. But it was very restrained criticism and she took pains not to say that she supported a trade war.

  • Katherine Tai, U.S. Trade Representative:

    Our analysis indicates that, while commitments in certain areas have been met, that certain business interests have seen benefits, there have also been shortfalls in others.

    Our objective is not to inflame trade tensions with China. Durable coexistence requires accountability and respect for the enormous consequences of our actions.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Ambassador Tai said she would allow U.S. companies to appeal to remove tariffs. The U.S. will try to work more with allies to confront China's trade practices and will try to be more resilient in the U.S., Judy, through its Build Back Better.

    But, ultimately, today was about continuity, maintaining Trump era tariffs as a tool for economic strategies.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So many businesses watching this very closely.

    What has been the response so far?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    She has been criticized by multiple sides. Some China experts I have spoken to say this is not a strategy; it's a holding pattern borne out of fear that any major steps on China is perilous domestically politically for the Biden administration.

    Some of the more hawkish experts I have talked to say this doesn't go far enough, that there is no promised punishment for China not adhering to reduce promises, nor is there a road map to try and get China to make those fundamental changes.

    But, on the other side, businesses have been pushing the Biden administration to say that tariffs don't work.

    So, take a listen to Anna Ashton of the U.S.-China Business Council, who told me she was disappointed.

  • Anna Ashton, U.S.-China Business Council:

    It's a disappointment to see this focus on the value of tariffs. I don't think that there's been a case made by the Biden administration either today during Ambassador Tai's speech or prior to today that the tariffs have been beneficial in any specific way.

    And, at the same time, we have all of this evidence that's mounted over the course of the last few years that the tariffs have been detrimental to U.S. businesses.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    So it seems that Ambassador Tai didn't please very many people, but she kept her cards close to the vest, held back her criticism, and that may give her room in those upcoming talks with Beijing.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And what about Beijing. Have they said anything yet?

  • Nick Schifrin:

    They have not said anything to her, but they have responded in the last few days in a very different way.

    More Chinese planes have flown into Taiwan's self-declared Air Defense Identification Zone just outside of Taiwanese airspace than ever before. This is three straight days of record military harassment of Taiwan. Today, Taiwan's foreign minister said he was concerned that Beijing would launch a war, but did not think that war was imminent.

    But, bottom line, Judy, Beijing is flexing its muscles militarily, warning the U.S. and its allies over support for Taiwan. We will soon see whether Beijing will also flex its muscles in trade talks.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Connections between the economy and the military. We will see.

    Nick Schifrin, thank you.

  • Nick Schifrin:

    Thank you.

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