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Dec 13, 2023, 4:27pm EST
businessNorth America

‘There’s no such thing as pure free trade’: Katherine Tai defends China tariffs

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai speaks with Semafor's Morgan Chalfant at Semafor's Made in America event.
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U.S. Trade Rep Katherine Tai defended tariffs against China at Semafor’s Made in America Event on Wednesday, saying that “tariffs are a part of the U.S.-China bilateral relationship” because of an “unfair” global economy.

“There’s no such thing as pure free trade,” Tai said, adding that China’s own tariffs and economic policy have allowed Beijing to dominate in certain global markets, chiefly electric vehicles.

The U.S. has “to get pragmatic in order to compete” with China, Tai said, which means adopting similar industrial policies that Beijing has used to hinder American production and trade.

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“We can’t just rely on the promise of this very beautiful vision of a very pure free trade taking us to the promised land,” Tai said.

She acknowledged that Trump-era policies have hurt certain sectors of the U.S. economy but added that the backbone and justification for the tariffs have “been a source of longstanding bipartisan, nonpartisan economic concern.”

The Biden administration is currently reviewing the Trump-era China tariffs with stakeholders to determine whether they should stay in place, or be amended or dropped, putting the White House in a difficult position after promising to soothe relations with Chinese President Xi Jinping. There is bipartisan support to boost tariffs, but some business owners say that American manufacturers have not gained all the benefits promised to them.

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