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Feb. 25, 2021, 4:36 p.m. EST

The Trump tariffs aren’t going away quickly, Biden’s top trade nominee signals

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Jeffry Bartash

The Biden White House is signaling it’s in no rush to roll back the stiff tariffs former President Trump imposed on China, Europe and other countries.

Katherine Tai, President Biden’s choice to take the lead on U.S. trade policies, made more news by what she didn’t say on Thursday at a Senate confirmation hearing than what she did say.

Tai made no commitments on behalf of the Biden administration to end the Trump tariffs anytime soon. She also emphasized tariffs are an important tool for the U.S. in settling disputes.

“Tariffs are  a very important part of our fair trade remedies,” said Tai, the nominee to be the next U.S. Trade Representative.

The Trump administration had slapped tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum and a broad array of Chinese goods, igniting the first major trade war in decades.

The controversial trade strategy was criticized by then-candidate Biden during the 2020 presidential campaign. Studies show the costs of the tariffs were mostly borne by American consumers and businesses.

Yet Biden, a longtime free trader, also admitted U.S. trade policies had failed to achieve their objectives and needed to change. Critics say trade agreements over the past two decades have cost millions of American jobs.

Tai repeatedly stressed the Biden administration would seek to negotiate with trade partners such as Europe, Canada and India to resolve disputes, a signal the U.S. wants to reduce tensions with key allies.

China presents a different challenge, Tai said, because its government plays a much more active role in its economy and trade practices than the U.S. and many other countries.

She said the U.S. needs to explore all its options and figure out how to compete with China in more effective way. One way to do that, she said, is to reach out to allies to “build a united front” for global fair-trade rules.

“We can’t compete by doing the things China does,” she said. “We have been very trusting of the free market. What the most recent years have taught us is we have to revisit … our trade policies.”

Tai declined to say whether the U.S. would seek to rejoin the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement assembled by former President Obama in part to challenge China. Trump withdrew from the deal on his first day in office.

“In 2021, the world is very different than it was in 2015 and 2016,” Tai said. Biden himself has said he would not rejoin unless the existing TPP pact was altered to meet certain U.S. objections.

Tai, a native-born American whose parents came from mainland China, is a trade expert highly respected by both Democrats and Republicans. She’s expected to be easily confirmed.

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