Biden Calls for Tariffs on Chinese Steel in Pittsburgh Pitch, Vying With Trump for Votes

Biden Calls for Tariffs on Chinese Steel in Pittsburgh Pitch, Vying With Trump for Votes

President Biden on Wednesday called for significant increases in some tariffs on steel and aluminum products from China and spoke to members of a national steel workers union in Pittsburgh as he vied with former President Donald J. Trump for votes in northern industrialized states.

“These are strategic and targeted actions that will protect American workers and ensure fair competition,” Mr. Biden told a crowd of about 100 United Steelworkers union members who supported him last month. “In the meantime, my predecessor and the MAGA Republicans want blanket tariffs on all imports from all countries that could severely harm American consumers.”

The Biden administration has argued that a flood of cheap exports from China is undermining U.S.-made products — threatening Biden’s push to expand U.S. manufacturing, a central focus of his economic agenda.

In his speech, Mr. Biden said he would ask U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai to increase tariffs to 25 percent on certain Chinese products, which currently face tariffs of 7.5 percent or no tariffs at all, according to officials from the White House said the outcome of an administration review of China tariffs originally imposed under Mr. Trump.

“I want fair competition with China, not conflict,” Mr. Biden said, flanked by supporters and holding signs reading “President Joe Biden: On the side of workers.” “And we are in a stronger competition to win the 21st century economic competition with China or anyone else because we reinvest in America and in American workers.”

The move is another attempt by Mr. Biden to impose new trade barriers with China in some industries. It could help him compete with Mr. Trump in a “tough China” context with swing voters, although administration officials said elections did not motivate that move.

A day earlier, Mr. Biden began a three-day tour of Pennsylvania, a crucial battleground state, by giving a speech in Scranton in which he focused on the tax code but repeatedly attacked Mr. Trump and accused him of favoring billionaires over the working class.

However, Mr Biden’s plans on Chinese trade are more targeted than Mr Trump’s. The former president has called for sweeping and steep new tariffs on imports from China and other countries, potentially breaking down trade borders between the countries. Mr. Biden’s administration is reviewing existing tariffs and is expected to propose raising some tariffs on Chinese products and lowering others.

At a morning breakfast stop en route from Scranton to Pittsburgh, Mr. Biden was asked by reporters whether he was worried about a trade war with China. “No trade war,” he replied.

Before Mr. Biden’s comments, Ms. Tai announced that her office had opened an investigation into China’s aggressive support for shipbuilders and other related industries in response to a union complaint.

“The American commercial shipbuilding industry is a shell of its former self,” the unions wrote in a filing with the Trade Representative. They added: “The biggest obstacle to the industry’s recovery is the unfair trade practices of the world’s largest shipbuilding nation: China.”

In the complaint, the unions cite “hundreds of billions” of dollars in Chinese government support for the shipbuilding industry. These include the supply of steel from state-owned companies at below-market prices, as well as various efforts to provide shipbuilders with cheap loans and other financing from state-owned companies. Ms Tai described the allegations as “serious and worrying”.

The moves threaten to escalate a trade dispute with Beijing, which has criticized Mr. Biden for his own efforts to subsidize American manufacturing — including tax credits in the Inflation Reduction Act intended to increase production of solar panels, electric vehicles and other technologies while reducing the Fossil fuel emissions.

China’s Commerce Ministry strongly criticized the investigation in a press release, saying it was “rife with false accusations that interpret normal trade and investment activities as harmful to U.S. national security and corporate interests and blame China for its own industrial problems.”

In his speech, Mr. Biden also reiterated his support for the steel workers union in the dispute over the planned sale of Pittsburgh-based US Steel to Japanese company Nippon Steel.

Nippon officials have vowed to invest billions in American manufacturing facilities, keep US Steel’s headquarters in Pittsburgh and honor existing labor contracts. But the purchase attempt drew criticism from the union and a bipartisan group of senators, mostly from developed countries, who say it could endanger national security.

Mr. Biden has signaled his opposition to the deal, which his administration is reviewing on security and antitrust grounds. He has repeatedly said he would stand with steelworkers in the dispute over the sale, although administration officials have not spelled out exactly what that means politically. In Pittsburgh, the president appeared to promise a worker that he would not allow the company to leave the United States – a move no one is currently talking about.

“Let’s keep US Steel in America,” one woman told Mr. Biden as he met with steelworkers before his speech.

“Guaranteed,” the president replied to cheers and applause.

David McCall, the international president of the Steel Workers Union, praised Mr. Biden before his speech.

“President Biden has promised USW members that he has our back,” McCall said. “And it’s clear he does.”

Mr. Biden and Mr. Trump are fighting for working-class votes in industrial swing states like Pennsylvania, Michigan and Wisconsin. Earlier Wednesday, the Biden campaign released an ad featuring a steelworker touting Mr. Biden’s economic record and attacking Mr. Trump.

This week, Mr. Trump’s trial on falsified business records began in Manhattan, the first of four criminal cases in which he is on trial. Mr. Biden generally refrains from commenting directly on the process. But his tour of Pennsylvania is intended to offer voters a contrast to Trump’s legal woes.

In his speech in Pittsburgh, Mr. Biden actually took a veiled dig at Mr. Trump, referring to him as “my predecessor who is busy right now.”

The crowd laughed and seemed to get the joke about Mr. Trump’s whereabouts, even though the former president is not actually due in court on Wednesday.

Alexandra Stevenson contributed reporting.

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2024-04-17 22:05:39