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March 12, 2021, 8:07 a.m. EST

Three good reasons Biden should ditch Trump’s tariffs on Chinese imports

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By Shang-Jin Wei

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The wrong tool for the job

One could argue that the U.S. should reduce its trade dependence on China for national-security reasons. But with more national-security tools than almost any other country, the U.S. does not need to rely on tariffs in pursuing such strategic objectives. In fact, it will be in the U.S. national interest to champion reforms at the World Trade Organization that delegitimize the use of tariffs for noneconomic purposes.

Repealing Trump’s tariffs on Chinese goods is essential to reviving confidence in the global trading system. In September 2020, a WTO dispute panel ruled the U.S. tariffs illegal under the organization’s rules. The U.S. has the right to appeal the decision, but the Trump administration disabled the WTO’s Appellate Body by refusing to confirm new judges when the previous incumbents’ terms expired, rendering the body inquorate.

Ignoring the WTO ruling could weaken the credibility of the Biden administration’s professed interest in strengthening the rules-based global system. But, given that the Trump tariffs are already in place, should the U.S. try to extract something from China in exchange for abandoning them?

If Biden can obtain something useful, such as a conversion of China’s unilateral pledge to achieve carbon neutrality by 2060 into a more binding international commitment, he should do so. But the longer the Trump tariffs remain, the longer America’s middle- and low-income households will have to bear the burden. Like the Smoot-Hawley tariffs in the 1930s, a continuation of the Trump tariffs will work against Biden’s objective of an inclusive economic recovery.

Shang-Jin Wei, a former chief economist at the Asian Development Bank, is professor of finance and economics at Columbia Business School and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

This commentary was published with permission of Project Syndicate—Why Should Biden Ditch Trump’s China Tariffs?

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