Free Trade

Joe Biden Said He Would Scrap Trump's China Tariffs. Or Did He?

Trump's trade war with China has been an outright failure. It shouldn't be too much to expect Biden to be able to say so.


Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden appeared to indicate last week that he would lift tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump. But his position may be murkier than it initially seemed.

Here's what happened. During an interview with NPR's Lulu Garcia-Navarro, Biden was asked whether he would "keep the tariffs" Trump imposed on Chinese-made goods. "No," Biden responded, before adding that "we're going after China in the wrong way."

Lifting Trump's tariffs would be a great idea, and Biden is absolutely correct that the tariffs have been ineffective in getting China to change its behavior. American importers, businesses, and consumers are paying an estimated $57 billion annually in higher costs due to the tariffs, and the only concession the trade war has won for the U.S. is a minor trade pact that neither Trump nor China's leaders seem too keen on actually respecting.

So a promise to scrap the tariffs sounds like great news. Naturally, Biden's campaign has pushed back against the idea that Biden meant to say what he said.

Meanwhile, the Trump campaign has seized on the moment to declare that Biden "would surrender to China on trade."

The story is complicated by the fact that Garcia-Navarro's question was not very precise, and further complicated by Biden's inarticulate response. Here's the transcript of their exchange (emphasis mine):

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO: President Trump is not the first president to say China is ripping off the United States. President Obama made similar complaints. Some have said Trump's stance is a good one to counter China's influence. Would you keep the tariffs?

JOE BIDEN: No. Hey, look, who said Trump's idea is a good one? Who said Trump's idea is a good one?


JOE BIDEN: Some. Two or three people. Manufacturing has gone in recession. Agriculture lost billions of dollars that taxpayers had to pay.

We're going after China in the wrong way. China is stealing intellectual property. China is conditioning being able to do business in China based on whether or not you have 51 percent Chinese ownership. That's got to end.

I've spent a fair amount of time when I was vice president with President Xi, because the president wanted me to get to know him. He's no democrat with a small d at all. But here's the deal. I made it real clear—

LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO: So if he scraps those tariffs, what do you want in return? Or are you just going to scrap them without any concessions?

JOE BIDEN: No, no, no. Here's the deal. The question is, what is the appropriate behavior that they have to engage in international trade with us? And they have to play by the international rules.

And what we have done is we have disarmed ourselves. We make up 25 percent of the world's economy. But we poked our finger in the eye of all of our allies out there.

The way Trump—the way China will respond is when we gather the rest of the world that in fact [INAUDIBLE] in open trade, and making sure that we're in a position that the world—that we deal with WHO the right way. In fact, that's when things began to change. That's when China—that's when China's behavior is going to change.

Biden gets some of the facts right. For example, manufacturing has gone into a recession since Trump took office, and the tariffs likely have contributed to that. Less accurately, he seems to have confused the World Trade Organization (WTO) with the World Health Organization (WHO). Still, if you read between the lines, there are a few worthwhile nuggets hiding in Biden's word salad. He's been a longtime advocate for a multinational approach to confronting Beijing: During the Obama administration, Biden was a lead cheerleader for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a proposed-but-never-finalized 12-nation trade deal widely viewed as an attempt to contain China. On the campaign trail the past two years, Biden has repeatedly criticized Trump's go-it-alone approach and the futility of the current administration's trade war.

But did Biden commit to lifting tariffs without any sort of agreement from China, as both free-traders and the Trump campaign—for very different reasons—might be hoping? Not really.

The Biden campaign did not respond to Reason's request that it clarify his remarks.

Unfortunately, Biden has tempered his formerly pro-trade views in an attempt to appeal to the protectionists within his own party and to blue-collar voters seen as essential to Trump's win in 2016. That might make political sense for Biden, who currently seems to be on track to winning the election, but it is small comfort for anyone who would like to see the next administration adopt a less economically illiterate trade policy.

That goes beyond just the tariff question. The Biden campaign has published a trade policy platform that includes questionable ideas like a mandatory "Buy American" provision that would increase what taxpayers have to pay when the federal government makes purchases. The Biden campaign has also parrotted some of the Trump administration's misguided talking points about America's supposed dependence on imported medical goods.

"Instead of providing a constructive alternative to these views in order to appeal to the vast majority of the Americans who would benefit from fewer trade barriers, the Biden campaign seems to be trying to out-Trump Trump in an effort to appease a relative handful of anti-trade extremists," writes Bryan Riley of the National Taxpayers Union Foundation.

Trump's trade war with China has been a failure. It shouldn't be too much to expect Biden to able to say so.

NEXT: Without 'Much More Aggressive Shutdowns,' The New York Times Warns, COVID-19 Could Kill 'Well Over a Million' Americans

Editor's Note: We invite comments and request that they be civil and on-topic. We do not moderate or assume any responsibility for comments, which are owned by the readers who post them. Comments do not represent the views of or Reason Foundation. We reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason at any time. Report abuses.

  1. Biden imploding!

    1. What a sad nothingburger

    2. ★ I am making $98/hour telecommuting. I never imagined that it was honest to goodness yet my closest companion is acquiring $20 thousand a month by working on the web, that was truly shocking for me, she prescribed me to attempt it. simply give it a shot on the accompanying site.. go to home media tech tab for more detail reinforce your heart………..  Read more

    3. Boehm imploding too.

      1. Make $6,000-$8,000 A Month Online With No Skills Required.FDc Be Your Own Boss And for more info visit any tab this site Thanks a lot…………► Cash Mony System

    1. That’s a hard lesson for Steve Saleen but one he should have learned before working in China. Don’t trust the commies. Don’t give them your trade secrets otherwise they won’t be your trade secrets anymore. Don’t build factories in a country that can take them away with a stroke of the pen.

      1. And what consequences for him personally, not the company, does he face that will teach him?

        If a multinational CEO is gonna be around for 5-10 years, and get out with a minimum $50 million parachute no matter what, what does he care if he knows it will all implode because of his choice 15-20 years down the line?
        He made an extra $100 million from off shoring. Who cares if the company collapses a few years after he moves on?

    2. Why should I or the US government give a fck about what China does to a Chinese business? The fact that they gave ownership to some American investors does not lead the US government having a vested interest.

  2. Sounds like a confusing mess of ideas. Is he thinking of getting aggressive with China? Military action if they dont comply with some nebulous wto order?

    Clearly we don’t want China to have this much command and control over our economy.

    1. Sure, he’ll take military action just as soon as the U.N. security council gives permission to do so

  3. Poor Boehm.

    1. Says the loser in the cult. What a fantasy world you’ve concocted for yourself.

      1. You’re confused. You saw the loser when you looked in the mirror.

  4. OE BIDEN: Some. Two or three people. Manufacturing has gone in recession.


  5. It shouldn’t be too much to expect Biden to be able to say so.

    So many possible responses. How can I choose just one?

  6. Joe Biden is horrible on free speech.

    1. Upholding it, or using it?

  7. As this article notes Joe Biden favored the idea of a TPP and that seems the best hope to hold China in check. We not only need Biden in the Presidency but more people to push the TPP. This where we need a strong middle because the far left/far right are going to oppose the idea. Maybe after the election President Biden could ask President Obama and Justin Amash to work together on this idea.

    1. Yes, let’s get in deeper with those two guys.

    2. China, PLEASE steal more IP.


      1. Just remember that stealing IP is pretty common. How many industries in this country were started with stolen IP. Thomas Jefferson stole Italian rice to grow in the colonies. We have to be cautious but avoid be sanctimonious about IP theft.

        1. He was also a slaveholder, so cancelled.

        2. Biden sure got a lot of traction with the Chinese as VP…….. gaining millions for his crackhead son.

          Yeah, putting that senile idiot in office would be a great idea. You really have proven that nothing you say will ever have any value.

  8. As Koch / Reason libertarians, our primary objective is to create an economy that works best for billionaires. Drumpf has been absolutely disastrous in that respect, tanking our benefactor Charles Koch’s net worth with his high-tariff / low-immigration policies. I guarantee Mr. Koch’s hard-earned fortune will do much better under President Biden.


  9. Making Cash more than $15k to $18k consistently just by doing basic online work. I have gotten $18376 a month ago just by working on the web. Its a simple and basic occupation to do from home and its profit are greatly improved than customary office work. Each individual can join this activity now just by pursue this link……..go to this site home media tech tab for more detail support your hear Here══════❥❥❥❥ReadMore.

  10. Biden can’t even decide on what color tie to wear, so he picked that multi color monstrosity.

  11. Trump’s trade war with China has been an outright failure.

    Yes, because in Boehm’s ADHD world view, if massive changes don’t happen instantaneously, something is a failure. And of course the only thing Boehm cares about is cheaper crappy imports on the shelves, at any cost.

    Back in the real world, however, supply lines have started shifting away from China, Americans are more aware of the problem that China poses, and China hates Trump’s guts and wants Joe Biden.

    1. Cite for your source that supply lines are shifting?

      1. Do your own research; it takes a couple of minutes with Google to find companies that have changed suppliers or made contacts with non-Chinese suppliers as backups.

  12. The trade war with China has, without question, been very successful at what it was intended to do….bring manufacturing jobs and investment back to the US. Its been across the board, from commodities, up the supply chain. It is the big reason unemployment was ticking down so much and the numbers in the workforce were going up.

    Certainly, there are arguments about the bigger picture, and total longterm costs, but for what it was sold on….a resounding success. To call it a failure is either idiotic, or intentional propaganda. Or both, i guess.

    1. Yes, both.

    2. What data are you basing your claims on?

      1. I agreed, lots of claims little proof.

        1. Fuck off. You’ve proven your complete progtardation today.

      2. Personal, quite extensive experience. I work in an area that feeds materials into many industries. Almost immediately upon the initiation of the “trade war” everyone was looking for domestic supply. it wasnt even about the cost, but more about just avoiding potential disruption. But it quickly morphed into a sustained share growth over chinese supply. It was part security due to uncertainty, a good bit of cost, but in my opinion a solid aspect of nationalistic sentiment. The money coming into the domestic supply translated into investment, leading to jobs and growth across the entire supply chains. China has lost significant market share across many industries in the us. Im pretty confident anyone in the commodities would have the same observation.

        1. Are the new suppliers supplying at the same cost, or has it resulted in the manufacturers’ costs increasing?

          What is the basis for your claims that tariffs have back manufacturing jobs, that investment has increased, and it is the “big reason” unemployment was ticking down and numbers in the workforce were going up?

          1. If you want hard data, it is not difficult to find the trends in capital investmenr and hiring for companies across tye industrial and manufacturing sectors. But i am not the BLS, nor do i feel any need to provide references in a comment section to support my own personal observations and experience.

            I made no claim howevre about costs and wouldnt be surprised if there was a bit more being spent for raw materials. But from what i have seen that was washed out frpm the market growth. The impact of tariffs on the cost strips of most products is really really small. Its can be a noticeable line item on the yearly budget depending on the material spend, but its only a problem if there isnt growth.

            1. But one key additional factor that has been overlooked in media. Many in the manufacturing sector are hugely patriotic. And while corporate bosses may be lefty, the folks down at the local levels and the vast majority of workers are strongly conservative. Give them a reason to be positive and to ‘buy american’ and they will lap it up and cheer. They will routinely pay more for a product if it is US sourced and cite things like “security of supply” or quality. China has always rated very low on the preferred sourcing….tariffs hardened thatnperception and fed the patriotism in that sector,

  13. As I recall Biden as Obama’s VP had eight years to work with China and at the end of that eight years China was doing the same thing to the US that it was at the beginning. I could also say the same thing about also which did not change for the better under Biden either.

    1. Biden got one change through. He got a sweet deal for his crackhead son Hunter.

  14. Start making cash online work easily from home.i have received a paycheck of $24K in this month by working online from home.i am a student and i just doing this job in my spare HERE? Read More

  15. Every month start earning more cash from $20,000 to $24,000 by working very simple j0b 0nline from home. I have earned last month $23159 from this by just doing this 0nline w0rk for maximum 3 to 4 hrs a day using my laptop. This home j0b is just awesome and regular earning from this are much times better than other regular 9 to 5 desk j0b. Now every person on this earth can get this j0b and start making dollars 0nline just by follow instructions on the given website….Click here.

  16. “…Or Did He?”

    Biden certainly doesn’t know.

Please to post comments

Comments are closed.