Biden expected to approach trade differently than Trump

President-elect Joe Biden will approach some trade issues much differently than outgoing President Donald Trump., speakers at a recent webinar said.

U.S. President-elect Joe Biden delivers a pre-Thanksgiving speech at his transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware, on Nov. 25. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts

Joe Biden will be far more interested in working on trade issues with allies than Donald Trump has been, an economist said.

"President Trump has run on a platform of America first. He has declared himself a tariff man, very proudly. President-elect Biden, on the other hand, is seen as more of an alliance man," said Mary Lovely, professor of economics at Syracuse University's Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs and a senior fellow of the Peterson Institute of International Economics.

Peterson was among the speakers during a Nov. 18 webinar on how U.S. trade policy will change under the Biden administration. The event, available online to the news media, was hosted by the National Press Foundation.

Lingling Wei, the Wall Street Journal’s senior China correspondent, and Edward Alden, a senior fellow of the Council of Foreign Relation, also spoke.

Trump's trade policies brought a bigger fundamental change than many people realize, Lovely said.


"President Trump has presided over a radical shift in U.S. trade policy. Sometimes the extent to which the shift was really different than previous administrations is, I think, underreported," she said.

And those changes hurt the U.S. economy, including the agricultural sector, she said.

"On net, the tariffs were a job buster, not a job creator. Retaliation by our partners has hurt American businesses, in particular, American farms," Lovely said. "Overall, the U.S. trade deficit and the trade deficit with China are larger today than they were in 2016. By any of these metrics, the policies have not worked to achieve their stated goals."

Her figures showed that the tariffs led to about 200,000 job losses in the American economy.

Though the Trump administration has tried to build new markets for U.S. products, "it's very hard to instantly turn around and create new markets. They're built on trust. Oftentimes it's overlooked that U.S. agricultural products are customized to the needs of their customers, so that these relationships represent long-term investments by U.S. producers. This cannot be turned around on a dime," Lovely said.

Not that Biden will emphasize trade issues initially, she said.

"We know to expect, clearly from his history, that President-elect Biden will work more closely with Western allies and use international institutions to promote new global initiatives. This is, of course, realizing that his first-year focus is going to have to be on the domestic agenda, in particular getting the COVID-19 outbreak under control and reviving the U.S. economy," Lovely said.

Biden has said he won't pursue new trade deals until the U.S. invests more in American workers and businesses. But Biden is expected to pursue major changes eventually, Alden said.


"President-elect Biden, if you look at his quite detailed campaign promises on this issue, has promised to implement what he calls fundamental reforms that shift production of a whole range of products back to U.S. soil. He's talking about a reshoring of significant chunks of manufacturing that have moved overseas, a lot of it to Asia," Alden said.

From the Chinese viewpoint: China wants to keep its trade relationship with the United States and won't do anything to provoke Trump further, Wei said.

At the same time, however, China wants to be treated as an equal with the United States, at least economically.

“The days of China being bossed around are over," she said.

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