Stop The Steel: Biden Is Replacing Trump’s Tariffs With Import Quotas

“The Biden administration has reached a deal with the European Union to withdraw tariffs imposed by President Donald Trump on European-made steel. Unfortunately, the agreement likely won’t translate into lower costs for American manufacturers and consumers.
That’s because the Biden administration is replacing Trump’s tariffs with a new form of protectionism that will continue to artificially inflate the cost of steel imported from Europe. Instead of charging 25 percent tariffs on all steel imports, as Trump did, Biden’s deal includes a so-called “tariff-rate quota” that will allow 3.3 million metric tons of steel to be imported annually without tariffs. Once that threshold is met, the 25 percent tariffs will apply to subsequent imports. For reference, the U.S. imported nearly 5 million metric tons of steel from Europe in 2017—the last full year before Trump’s tariffs caused imports to fall sharply.”

Americans Paid $7.6 Billion in Tariffs During August, a New Monthly Record

“Former President Donald Trump hiked tariffs on a wide range of imported goods, President Joe Biden has refused to cut them, and that bipartisan opposition to free trade means Americans are now paying higher import taxes than ever.

The federal government collected more than $7.6 billion in tariffs during the month of August, according to recently released figures from the U.S. Census Bureau, which tracks economic data. That’s an amount that exceeds even the highest single-month total during the Trump administration and one that dwarves monthly tariff revenue from earlier years.”

“It can be a mistake to make too much out of a single month’s economic data, but these numbers provide some small insight into the failures of the Trump administration’s trade policies. Higher tariffs did not reduce Americans’ desire to buy imported goods. They did not reduce the trade deficit (quite the opposite, in fact). They were not paid for by China or other foreign nations, but by American companies importing those goods (and the costs are passed along to other buyers and consumers down the supply chain).”

“Revenue extracted by the federal government is not the only cost imposed by tariffs, of course. They also warp supply chains, change investment decisions, and encourage more spending on lobbyists and lawyers.”

With Ports Clogged, Some Retailers Are Looking for Alternative Supply Chains

“The Wall Street Journal reports that Walmart, Target, Costco, and Home Depot are among the major retailers to adopt the “if you want something done right, do it yourself” approach to importing goods. Worker shortages and COVID-19 protocols have slowed trans-Pacific shipping considerably—it now takes about 80 days to transport items from Asia to the U.S., about twice as long as it did before the pandemic, the Journal reports.”

“many of the bottlenecks are domestic issues. For example, major ports in Europe and Asia operate around the clock, but American ports run at about 60 percent capacity because they close at night and on Sundays. Even when dozens of ships are waiting to be unloaded, inflexible union rules that govern dockworkers’ and truckers’ hours make it difficult to meet swelling demand.

By chartering smaller, private ships to carry their goods, retailers like Walmart are hoping to bypass the backlogs by landing at smaller ports up and down the east coast. That will cost more money—and those costs will be passed onto consumers—but that’s better than running out of inventory during the Christmas rush. Home Depot, for example, is relying on chartered ships to deliver only a small percentage of its overall inventory with a focus on high-demand items like plumbing supplies, power tools, holiday decor, and heaters, the Journal reports.

Getting goods onshore is only half the battle. There are plenty of other bottlenecks to be navigated, like a 25-mile freight train backup that occurred at a major shipping facility outside Chicago earlier this year. At the port in Savannah, Georgia, The New York Times reports that workers are “running out of places to put things” as they unload ships, snarling both ground- and sea-based transportation.”

“”The coronavirus pandemic has snarled global supply chains in several ways. Pandemic checks sent hundreds of billions of dollars to cabin-fevered Americans during a fallow period in the service sector. A lot of that cash has flowed to hard goods, especially home goods such as furniture and home-improvement materials. Many of these materials have to be imported from or travel through East Asia. But that region is dealing with the Delta variant, which has been considerably more deadly than previous iterations of the virus. Delta has caused several shutdowns at semiconductor factories across Asia just as demand for cars and electronics has started to pick up. As a result, these stops along the supply chain are slowing down at the very moment when Americans are demanding that they work in overdrive.””

The Neglected Agency at the Center of Biden’s China Strategy

“The Commerce Department’s role and responsibilities have grown in size and complexity, while its capabilities and resources have not. This shift reflects the nature of the competition with China (and one of the reasons the analogy to a “new Cold War” is flawed): Economic security and advantages in non-military technology have outsize importance compared to traditional military strength. That’s still crucial, of course, but much of the day-to-day contest happens in the arena of commerce. Just as other departments, like Treasury and Homeland Security, have been revamped and restructured as their relevance to national security grew, the Biden administration needs to reform the Commerce Department’s resources, structure and authorities if its China strategy is to succeed.”

The great book shortage of 2021, explained

“Right now, distribution networks across the world are massively congested.

“Los Angeles — which is a major port of entry for the United States — New York, and New Jersey are all pretty full up,” says O’Leary. “We’re hearing reports of delays of weeks for getting things cleared.”

“Containers are not moving out of ports and onto trains quickly enough,” explains Chris Tang, a UCLA business professor specializing in global supply chain management. “And on top of that, all of the warehouses in the Midwest are full. So everything is stuck.”

An increase in online shipping in part of what’s driving the congestion. Meanwhile, the complications of Brexit and the internet’s beloved container ship Ever Given — both of which dramatically disrupted global supply chains — certainly aren’t helping ports empty themselves out faster.

Even more pressing, however, is a shortage of truck drivers. There just aren’t enough trucks on the road to pick up as much stuff as we’re currently shipping around the world. “We’re talking tens of thousands fewer truck drivers than we need,” says O’Leary.

And as stuff sits in warehouses, waiting to be picked up by increasingly scarce truck drivers, the price of storage goes up, adding to overall shipping costs. “It used to be around $3,000 per container,” Tang says. “Now the price is closer to $20,000.” The skyrocketing costs mean that companies selling luxury goods will take more warehouse slots, since they can afford them, while lower-priced goods, like books, compete for what’s left.

Barnes & Noble CEO Daunt notes that books do have one big advantage over other goods when it comes to shipping: They’re durable. “The reality is that books are fantastic because they don’t really perish, so you’re able to print lots of them in advance,” he says. “They’re incredibly robust, so you can send them through the most basic of supply chain routes. They’re not strawberries or peaches or delicate things.”

But right now, even the most basic of supply chain routes are finding themselves overwhelmed.”

“One of the big underlying problems when it comes to printing and shipping books is the same labor shortage that’s currently roiling the rest of the country. There aren’t enough press operators to get books printed, and then there aren’t enough truck drivers to get them to bookstores. Wages have gone up, but there still aren’t enough people working.

“In the whole national workforce, you’ve got 8.4 million unemployed but 10.9 million open jobs,” says Baehr. “That’s a two and a half million-person shortage, period, and that’s across all buckets. The book industry is getting hit with that just as much as the paper industry is getting hit with that just as much as the transportation industry is getting hit with that. It all just compounds on itself. It’s just a rough spot right now for the book business.”

“Simply put, the working-age population in the US has stopped growing,” says Gad Levanon, founder of the Labor Market Institute. “And the working-age population without a BA is shrinking quite rapidly.” That’s a major issue for the industries we’re discussing here because in general, people with college degrees prefer not to work in warehouses, as truck drivers, or in printing presses.”

Tariffs on Chinese Imports Have Accomplished Approximately Nothing

“At the core of former President Donald Trump’s aggressive trade policies was a relatively simple—perhaps overly simplified—promise: Tariffs on Chinese-made products would drive manufacturers out of China.

“Many tariffed companies will be leaving China for Vietnam and other such countries in Asia,” Trump claimed in May 2019, about a year after his tariffs were first imposed. “China wants to make a deal so badly. Thousands of companies are leaving because of the Tariffs,” he tweeted a few months later, suggesting that the outflow was already underway. “If you want certainty, bring your plants back to America,” Robert Lighthizer, Trump’s U.S. trade representative, lightly threatened in a New York Times op-ed in May 2020, as the trade war’s second anniversary arrived.

But the tariffs failed to achieve that primary policy aim, according to a new paper published by researchers at the University of Kansas and the University of California, Irvine. Roughly 11 percent of multinational companies exited China in 2019, the first full year in which tariffs were in place—a significant increase from previous years. But the overall number of multinational firms operating in China actually increased during that same year, as foreign investment continued to flow into China even as the trade war ratcheted up costs.

In fact, the number of U.S.-based multinationals in China actually increased from 16,141 in 2017 to 16,536 in 2019. Non-U.S. companies were more likely to exit China during 2019 despite not being subjected to Trump’s tariffs.

“We estimate that less than 1 percent of the increase in U.S. firm exits during this period was due to U.S. tariffs. And U.S. firms were no more likely to divest than firms from Europe or Asia,” researchers Jiakun Jack Zhang and Samantha Vortherms wrote in The Washington Post this week.”

“Trump is no longer running U.S. trade policy, but his failed tariffs on Chinese imports are still in force. Lighthizer’s replacement in the Biden administration, U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, has said the tariffs provide “leverage” over China.

But that perspective is no more grounded in reality than Trump’s promises that his tariffs would cause companies to flee China. American consumers are bearing nearly 93 percent of the costs of the tariffs applied to Chinese goods, according to a recent report from Moody’s Investors Service. How is this giving the White House leverage over China?”

Solar trade woes cast a pall over Biden’s climate goals

“Even the mere prospect of new trade restrictions has prompted solar installers, who are already facing supply issues and higher labor costs, to pull back on some projects. At the same time, Biden wants to avoid being seen to be weak on China — another centerpiece of his campaign pitch and early policy agenda.

The conflict pits parts of the solar industry against each other. American solar panel manufacturers are petitioning to expand existing tariffs on Chinese products to those coming from Malaysia, Thailand and Vietnam. Backers of the tariffs and trade restrictions say they would allow panel makers in the U.S. to expand production. Added duties would also accomplish another of Biden’s goals: punishing China over the use of forced labor.

But the Solar Energy Industries Association, which represents developers that install panels and build solar projects, says imposing tariffs on those three nations would hit more than three-fourths of imports and about half of the total solar panel supply in the U.S. “That would have a pretty devastating impact on the solar industry,” said Abby Hopper, CEO of the trade group.”

“Other trade issues before the administration could also hamper solar build-out. Commerce is weighing whether to extend separate Trump-era tariffs on Chinese solar for another four years, and the Department of Homeland Security is considering whether to increase trade restrictions on Chinese panel components, like it did this summer.

In June, the Biden administration blocked the import of products containing silicon materials from a key Chinese supplier, Hoshine, over concerns it uses forced labor in its manufacturing. The company operates in the northwestern Chinese region of Xinjiang, where the ruling Communist Party has interned hundreds of thousands of ethnic Uyghur Muslims.

The policy has resulted in Customs and Border Protection detaining some shipments of solar panels coming in from China.”

Cubans Rose Up. America Should Step Up.

“Biden’s words of support for the protesters—some of whom waved American flags as they demanded “libertad”—are nice. Actions would be better. And there is plenty the U.S. could, and should, do to aid Cubans in their fight against authoritarian communism.

For starters, Congress could lift the 59-year-old U.S. trade embargo against the island country.

Some leftists blame the embargo for impoverishing Cuba, but this is misdirection. Communism has destroyed Cuba’s once-prosperous economy. Still, the trade embargo, in place since 1962, has plainly failed to accomplish its primary goal of toppling the Cuban regime. If anything, it has helped to strengthen it by giving former President Fidel Castro and his successors a way to deflect blame for communism’s failures—a strategy that Cuban President Miguel Díaz-Canel also deployed during the initial wave of protests in July.

From America’s perspective, what has the embargo accomplished? That it remains in place nearly three decades after the fall of the Soviet Union suggests that America has failed to learn the primary lesson of the Cold War: Economic development is the best weapon to aim at communism.”

“where is the evidence that disengagement is working? Demanding political reforms before economic changes is exactly backward—and again ignores the lessons of the Cold War.
Economic freedom is the key to other kinds of freedom. Consider what happened when the Obama administration loosened some of the rules on American travel to Cuba as part of an effort to reestablish diplomatic relations. Even with the trade embargo still in place, that slight policy change induced then–Cuban President Raul Castro to relax state controls on private commerce. While accurate figures on Cuba’s economy are understandably difficult to come by, a 2017 Brookings Institution report estimated that “the number of authorized self-employed people (cuentapropistas) rose from some 150,000 in 2008 to about 580,000 in 2017.”

Increasing entrepreneurship reduces Cubans’ reliance on the Communist state. And when people are allowed a little freedom, they tend to want more of it. ”

“calls for the White House to allow private companies to beam internet service into Cuba to circumvent the government’s blackout and help protesters organize. Technologically, this is possible: Balloons anchored miles offshore could broadcast mobile internet signals into Cuba. The same tech was deployed near Puerto Rico after two devastating hurricanes crippled the island’s digital infrastructure in 2017.

Even if Biden does nothing more than re-instate Obama’s travel and economic policies and call on Congress to end the failed trade embargo, it would signal to the Cuban people—and to the country’s potential future leaders—that the United States recognizes trade and tourism as vital economic and political lifelines for the island’s long-suffering residents. It also would remove the biggest excuse that Cuba’s government uses to distract people from the failings of communism.”

More Than 53,000 American Companies Sought Exemptions From Trump’s China Tariffs. Almost All Were Denied.

“The bureaucratic process established by the Trump administration to determine which American companies should be exempted from paying tariffs on imports from China is a black box of “inconsistencies” and poorly documented decision-making, according to a new audit.

In a report published last week, the Government Accountability Office (GAO) cast a critical eye on the so-called “tariff exclusion process” created in 2018 as part of the Trump administration’s efforts to slap tariffs on a wide range of imports from China. The process, overseen by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, allowed American businesses to appeal to the federal government for permission to not pay tariffs if they could demonstrate that a given product was not available from other sources, or if a business faced “severe economic harm” due to the tariffs.

Between 2018 and 2020, American businesses submitted more than 53,000 exclusion requests. The vast majority—87 percent—were denied, and most of the denials were on the grounds that the company failed to demonstrate sufficient economic harm to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, the GAO found.

In other words, federal bureaucrats reviewed tens of thousands of statements from companies pointing out how the Trump administration’s tariffs would cause economic harm—because, yes, Americans paid for the tariffs—then discarded most of those requests because the harms were not “severe” enough.

What’s even worse is that there’s very little in the way of objectivity or due process afforded to companies that had their exclusion requests denied. Soon after the tariffs were imposed, members of Congress warned that the exclusion process lacked “basic due process and procedural fairness” and that it could be “abused for anticompetitive purposes.” As Reason previously reported, business owners have complained that simply getting a decision one way or the other can take months. And there is no way to appeal the rulings.

The new GAO report confirms some of those concerns.”

“tariffs are always about protecting certain industries, and protecting certain industries always invites influence-peddling.”