The Biden administration’s early policies toward China, global trade, and the WTO have proven to be attuned to the newer developments of the times. In practice, however, these policies are a bit concerning.
There has been no wholesale de-Trumpfication of the US trade policy. The administration has not immediately rejected many of Trump’s chaotic trade policies. It has recalibrated some of them and extended others. It has clearly put China at the center of its policies, raising the importance of human rights. However, it is disappointing that the administration is keeping some of the most grievous policies (Section 232 steel tariffs) and not addressing others, most notably the WTO’s dispute resolution system, which represents the core of an international rules-based trading system. In fact, both the Trump administration and the new Biden administration have been oblivious to the filing of new matters.
Biden’s policies toward China keep many of Trump’s signature policies in place, including the Phase One Trade Deal. President Biden has also kept Section 232 (steel tariffs) and Section 301 (tariffs on Chinese goods). Indeed, while imposing new sanctions because of human rights violations concerning the Uighurs, which reflects core American values, he extended restrictive investment measures on Chinese firms. His administration is now exploring a new application of Section 232 tariffs on China related to the import of rare earth elements and new sanctions over China’s actions (its new National Security Law) concerning human rights in Hong Kong. President Biden is now also grappling with the US sixty-year-old sanctions on Cuba in light of recent historical demonstrations in Cuba for greater human rights and freedom.
Biden’s policies toward the WTO have essentially been uninspiring. He has not reversed Trump’s destructive policies relating to the WTO’s dispute resolution system including its Appellate Body. The Biden administration has continued to follow the later Trump policy of not filing actions in the dispute resolution system against China or any other country. This is contrary to Biden’s often-stated goal of following and enforcing global trade rules and supporting the global system. Dispute resolution is at the core of the peaceful settlement of trade disputes that could otherwise spin out of control.