Free Trade

In Convention Speech, Mike Pence Said Joe Biden Will Repeal Trump's Tariffs. If Only That Were True.

Unfortunately, Biden has carefully avoided committing to changing much of anything about Trump's trade policies.


As he capped off the third night of the Republican National Convention, Vice President Mike Pence may have briefly given voters hope that the trade war with China could soon come to an end.

Discussing China in his convention speech, Pence claimed that Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden "wants to repeal all the tariffs that are leveling the playing field for American workers."

Don't get your hopes up. No matter who wins November's general election, a wind-down of the import taxes that President Donald Trump imposed on Chinese-made goods is unlikely to be a priority.

Biden has carefully avoided committing to doing much of anything about Trump's tariffs if he wins. Biden does indeed have a long track record in supporting lower barriers to trade—as a member of the Senate, for example, he supported the North American Free Trade Agreement, which substantially reduced tariffs and boosted American jobs by making trade freer. But as the contemporary Democratic Party steered him leftward, he backed away from that stance on the campaign trail this year.

Most recently, Biden's campaign walked back some imprecise comments in which the candidate appeared to endorse ending Trump's tariffs. The Biden campaign has also published a trade policy platform that includes such questionable ideas as a mandatory "Buy American" provision that would increase what the federal government has to pay when it makes purchases. The platform also parrots some of the Trump administration's misguided talking points about America's supposed dependence on imported medical goods.

So there's no sign that Pence's accusation that Biden would lift Trump's tariffs on China is true. What's more worrying, though, is that Pence seems to believe those tariffs are "leveling the playing field for American workers."

Really? American manufacturing dipped into a recession last year—even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck—and a major culprit was those same tariffs (along with tariffs the Trump administration has imposed on imported steel and aluminum). Tariffs are nothing more than taxes, and the Trump administration's tariffs have raised taxes on American consumers and businesses by an estimated $57 billion annually.

Trump touted those tariffs as necessary pain for future gain, but the benefits haven't arrived. The limited trade deal Trump struck with China late last year—a deal that did not result in the lifting of any tariffs—was supposed to boost Chinese purchases of American agricultural goods, manufacturing supplies, and energy. But data tracked by the Peterson Institute for International Economics shows that China is not coming close to meeting those obligations. When asked about it, Trump has mostly shrugged off any concerns.

Trump's tariffs hiked costs for American businesses and consumers, and the trade war's benefits appear to be illusory. Biden absolutely should want to scrap Trump's trade barriers. Unfortunately, Pence is wrong to promise that he will.