There are many lingering effects from Donald Trump's term as president that the nation is still dealing with, but one that seems particularly sticky nearly a year into the new administration is a bit of a surprise: tariffs.
We were hopeful last year that President Joe Biden would reverse the costly trade wars begun with nearly all of the country's closest allies — trade wars that threatened to inflict grave damage on the U.S. and particularly on the auto industry.
Yet while Biden has certainly adopted a friendlier rhetorical tone compared with his predecessor, his administration has been slow to repair the damage done to U.S. trading relationships or to reverse course on most of the harmful tariffs put in place during the Trump years.
Let us be clear: Tariffs are more than just a barrier to free trade, they are a stealth tax on U.S. consumers who purchase the products or materials subjected to imposed tariffs. The center-right American Action Forum estimated in a November study that the tariff regimen imposed during the Trump administration cost consumers an added $51 billion annually.
One explanation for Biden's continuation of his predecessor's trade policies lies in the nation's persisting troubles with China — which has rapidly grown to equal or surpass the U.S. by several key economic and diplomatic measures, but which has a shoddy track record when it comes to international trade as well as human rights. Protectionist measures put in place by both the Trump and Biden administrations aimed squarely at China have drawn bipartisan support in Congress — a rare accomplishment in this nation's deeply fractured political climate.
Yet it is the continued unnecessarily difficult relationships with other valuable trading partners — particularly Canada and Mexico, Japan and Europe — that are far more difficult to understand. If the U.S. and China are really locked in a global battle for economic supremacy, then the U.S. is going to need closer economic ties with these important allies, not weakened ones.
We continue to believe that the U.S. can out-innovate and out-compete any global rival on a level playing field. It's time that the Biden administration gets to work on restoring this nation's commitment to free and fair trade.