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Biden treads carefully around Trump’s combative trade policy

Washington, (The Southern African Times) – In his first weeks in office, President Joe Biden has wasted no time in dumping a batch of major Trump administration policies. He rejoined the Paris climate agreement. He ended a ban on travelers from mostly Muslim countries. He canceled the Keystone XL oil pipeline. He reversed a ban on transgender people serving in the military. And so on.

Biden and his team are tiptoeing, though, around one of Donald Trump’s most divisive signature legacies: His go-it-alone moves to start a trade war with China and bludgeon some of America’s closest allies with a gale of tariffs on their steel, aluminum and other goods. In upending seven decades of presidential support for free trade, Trump vowed to shrink the U.S. trade deficit and restore millions of lost American factory jobs.

In the end, by most accounts, the Trump tariffs achieved very little — and managed to antagonize some of America’s closest trading partners.

Yet for now, the Biden administration seems intent on approaching trade with caution and deliberation. Most striking, perhaps, is what Biden hasn’t done: He hasn’t called off Trump’s trade war with China. He hasn’t promised to scale back or cancel his tariffs on imported metals or end an impasse that’s left the World Trade Organization unable to function as arbiter in global trade disputes.

Instead, the administration’s policymakers are focusing on other, unrelated priorities — distributing COVID-19 vaccines as fast as possible and providing much more aid to a pandemic-pounded economy that has yet to regain nearly 10 million lost jobs since February.

“He is going to take his time,” said Mary Lovely, a Syracuse University economist who is a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “Biden has said repeatedly that he needs America to be stronger before he takes on a lot of these trade issues.’’

One factor may be that reversing all of Trump’s policies could heighten risks for a Democrat who is close to unions unhappy with America’s pre-Trump free-trade consensus. Politically, Biden depends on support in Midwestern manufacturing towns and cities. These areas have suffered from low-priced imports from China, Mexico and elsewhere.

“There is competition for the swing state voters who are in favor of (trade) protection,” said Daniel Ikenson, director of trade policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Democrats are still stung by Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 and some of the trade-related factors behind it. Trump abandoned the modern Republican Party’s support for free trade agreements favored by America corporations that have deep connections overseas. Instead, Trump cast himself as a populist defender of long-suffering manufacturing workers — an “America first” champion who would eradicate unfair trade practices and restore American factory jobs.

One factor may be that reversing all of Trump’s policies could heighten risks for a Democrat who is close to unions unhappy with America’s pre-Trump free-trade consensus. Politically, Biden depends on support in Midwestern manufacturing towns and cities. These areas have suffered from low-priced imports from China, Mexico and elsewhere.

“There is competition for the swing state voters who are in favor of (trade) protection,” said Daniel Ikenson, director of trade policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute.

Democrats are still stung by Trump’s surprise victory in 2016 and some of the trade-related factors behind it. Trump abandoned the modern Republican Party’s support for free trade agreements favored by America corporations that have deep connections overseas. Instead, Trump cast himself as a populist defender of long-suffering manufacturing workers — an “America first” champion who would eradicate unfair trade practices and restore American factory jobs.

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