U.S. Signals Little Thaw in Trade Relations With China

The Biden administration said it would not immediately remove the Trump administration’s tariffs and would require that Beijing uphold its trade commitments.

By Ana Swanson and Keith Bradsher

WASHINGTON — The Biden administration offered its strongest signal yet that the United States’ combative economic approach toward China would continue, with senior administration officials saying that President Biden would not immediately lift tariffs on Chinese goods and that he would hold Beijing accountable for trade commitments agreed to during the Trump administration.

The comments, in a call with reporters on Sunday, provided one of the first looks at how the Biden administration plans to deal with a rising economic and security threat from China. They indicated that while Mr. Biden may have criticized the Trump administration’s aggressive approach, his White House will continue trying to counter China’s economic threats with trade barriers and other punitive measures.

That includes requiring China to uphold commitments it agreed to as part of the Phase 1 trade deal that it signed with the United States in January 2020. So far, China is on pace to fall short of its 2021 purchasing commitments by more than 30 percent, after falling short by more than 40 percent last year, according to Chad P. Bown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who tracks the purchases.

However, in a move that would offer some relief to businesses that import Chinese products, the administration said it would re-establish an expired process that gives some companies a reprieve by excluding them from the tariffs. Trade officials would make those decisions based on the priorities of the Biden administration, officials said, without elaborating further.

Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative, is expected to begin talking with her Chinese counterparts in the coming days about the country’s failure to live up to its agreements, senior administration officials said. Officials did not rule out the possibility of imposing further tariffs on China if talks with did not produce the desired results, warning Beijing that they would use all available tools to defend the United States from state-directed industrial policies that harm its workers.

China denies that it has failed to live up to the Phase 1 agreement, contending that the pandemic has created unique circumstances.

The Biden administration has been drawing up an investigation into China’s use of subsidies under Section 301 of U.S. trade law. If it is carried out, that inquiry could result in additional tariffs on China, according to people familiar with the plans.

In excerpts that were released on Monday morning in Washington from a planned speech later in the morning, Ms. Tai said that, “For too long, China’s lack of adherence to global trading norms has undercut the prosperity of Americans and others around the world.”

“We continue to have serious concerns with China’s state-centered and nonmarket trade practices that were not addressed in the Phase 1 deal,” she added.

Last week, Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, pointed to China’s blocking of its airlines from buying “tens of billions of dollars” of products from Boeing.

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