Biden’s Trade Representative Confesses: Free Trade Is “The Problem That We Are Trying to Correct”

In a recent Ways and Means Committee hearing, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai asked for input on how cutting tariffs can advance the greater cause of resilience, sustainability, and inclusiveness in our trading relationships.

Cutting tariffs would make supply chains more resilient by allowing Americans to purchase goods from multiple sources. In contrast, trade barriers reduce resiliency. For example, U.S. families recently faced a costly shortage of infant formula because of tariff and non-tariff regulatory barriers that prevented parents from buying infant formula from Europe. 

Cutting tariffs on environmental goods like wind turbines and solar water heaters would promote sustainability by reducing their cost. But instead of cutting tariffs, the Biden Administration has imposed Buy American restrictions that increase the cost of clean energy projects even further.

Cutting tariffs would promote inclusiveness by including the interests of American taxpayers, consumers, and workers in trade policy. Protectionist trade barriers provide concentrated benefits to organized interest groups paid for by Americans whose interests are not fully included in trade policy considerations. For example, the U.S. sugar program benefits a relative handful of politically powerful sugar producers while imposing a hidden tax on millions of American consumers. 

These are just a few examples of how the Biden administration could advance resilience, sustainability, and inclusiveness by cutting tariffs.

Even more importantly, cutting tariffs also would advance the cause of freedom. Unfortunately, the Biden administration doesn’t seem to care much about that. In response to a question from Rep. Darin Lahood (R-IL), Amb. Tai confessed: “...we are not pursuing traditional fully liberalizing trade agreements because we see those as part of the problem that we are trying to correct.”

Failing to pursue tariff cuts is bad enough. Amb. Tai has actually encouraged foreign governments to increase tariffs on U.S. exports ranging from corn to digital services via the Biden administration’s “anything goes” policy with respect to new tariffs on American-made goods and services, as long as foreign governments allege that U.S. exports harm their national security.

The Biden administration is wrong. Free trade is not a problem to be corrected. It is, as President Reagan described it, an American triumph that we worked hard to achieve, and one that is central to a peaceful and prosperous world of freedom.