Biden seeks steel tariffs on 'cheating' China

Agence France-Presse
Biden seeks steel tariffs on 'cheating' China
US President Joe Biden steps off Air Force One upon arrival at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland on April 17, 2024, as he returns to the White House from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds

PITTSBURGH, United States — US President Joe Biden called Wednesday for a hike in steel tariffs on China, accusing it of  cheating as he courted blue-collar voters on an election campaign trip to the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

Biden accused Beijing of xenophobia too in a speech to union members in Pittsburgh that also sought to contrast his defense of workers' rights with the record of his rival Donald Trump.

"They're not competing, they're cheating. They're cheating and we've seen the damage here in America," the 81-year-old Biden said to cheers at the headquarters of the United Steelworkers union.

The Democrat said Chinese steel companies "don't need to worry about making a profit because the Chinese government is subsidizing them so heavily."

Biden said he had called for the US Trade Representative to triple the tariff rates for Chinese steel and aluminum if Beijing was confirmed to be using anti-competitive practices.

"They're xenophobic," he added. "They've got real problems. I'm not looking for a fight with China, I'm looking for competition -- but fair competition."

Biden has taken an increasingly protectionist stance as he competes with Trump for the votes of blue-collar workers in America's industrial heartland in November's election.

Beijing reacted furiously after Washington said it was also launching a probe into Chinese shipbuilding following a complaint by unions, including United Steelworkers.

But Biden insisted there would be "no trade war" with China and insisted his tariffs would not hurt his ties with Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The two leaders have tried to smooth tense ties in recent months, meeting in California last year and speaking on the phone recently.

'Badly hurt'

Biden was on the second day of a three-day swing through Pennsylvania, which he narrowly won over Trump in 2020 and has paid more campaign visits to than any other state in 2024.

The Pittsburgh stop was also designed to put a seal on his union ties, after United Steelworkers officially endorsed him for the election.

Biden recently opposed a bid by Japan's Nippon Steel to take over the Pittsburgh-based firm US Steel in a further attempt to woo the union.

On Wednesday he said "I promise" to keep the iconic company American-owned.

He also took aim at Trump, saying his predecessor "never lifted a finger" to stop China siphoning off US jobs, and saying his rival's plans for across-the-board tariffs on all countries would hurt Americans.

On the first day of the trip on Monday, he stopped by his childhood home in Scranton while again taking aim at Trump as an elitist billionaire, as the tycoon languished in a New York courtroom as part of his hush money trial.

Biden mocked him on Wednesday, saying Trump was "busy right now."

Despite huge differences with Trump on everything from tax to abortion, Biden's trade policies have increasingly echoed elements of his rival's "America First" approach.

But unlike Trump, Biden has invested huge amounts in infrastructure and green projects since taking office, hoping that it will bring manufacturing and production of key goods like steel back to the United States.

The Biden administration views China's practices as a barrier to that.

China accounts for about half of global steel production, while exporting the metal at a significantly lower cost than US steel prices, a senior US official told reporters.

Beijing said it firmly opposes the shipbuilding probe announced Wednesday, calling it "full of false accusations, misinterpreting normal trade and investment activities as harming US national security and corporate interests, and blaming China for its own industrial problems."

The trade tensions come against a backdrop of wider stresses between the world's two biggest economies.

China was also angered when Biden hosted the leaders of Japan and the Philippines last week in a concerted front against China's increasing assertiveness in the Asia-Pacific region.

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