‘It’s Cheating’: Biden Champions China Tariffs Among Union Workers

‘I’m determined that the future of electric vehicles will be made in America by union workers. Period,’ the president says.
‘It’s Cheating’: Biden Champions China Tariffs Among Union Workers
President Joe Biden speaks at the Milton J. Rubenstein Museum in Syracuse, N.Y., on April 25, 2024. (Andrew Caballero-Reynolds/AFP via Getty Images)
T.J. Muscaro

President Joe Biden stood before a crowd of America’s union workers in the Rose Garden on May 14 and defended the massive increase in tariffs just announced on Chinese electric vehicles (EVs) and other products.

“American workers can outwork and out-compete anyone as long as the competition is fair,” he said. “For too long, it hasn’t been fair.”

To the various trades represented before him, including auto workers, IBEW, steel workers, AFL-CIO, and sheet metal workers, he describe those unfair trade practices that he credited with hurting American workers.

The price of Chinese products, from aluminum, semiconductors, and electric vehicles to critical health equipment, has been “unfairly low” because Chinese companies don’t need to worry about profit, he said.

For years, they have been heavily subsidized by the China Communist Party (CCP) which, he said, pushes them to produce more than the world can absorb.

An extremely cheap excess of product is created that drives other manufacturers out of business.

The president also pointed out other “anti-competitive tactics” employed by the Chinese, such as requiring all American businesses that operate in China to transfer their technology, provide access to all intellectual property, and have 51 percent Chinese ownership.

The Walt Disney Company, for example, owns a minority share of Disneyland Shanghai. The Shanghai Shendi Group owns 57 percent of the resort.

He also said it’s been well-documented that sometimes China outright steals through cyber espionage.

“It’s not competition,” the president said. “It’s cheating. And we’ve seen the damage here in America.”

The crowd applauded as he announced the tariffs, which included a 100 percent tariff on Chinese EVs, a 25 percent tariff on electric vehicle batteries and the critical minerals for those batteries, and a 50 percent tariff on Chinese semiconductors.

President Biden also blamed the flood of cheap Chinese steel onto the U.S. market for the loss of 18,000 ironworker and steelworker jobs in Pennsylvania and Ohio.

Promising such a thing would “never happen again” to his union audience, he announced a 25 percent tariff on Chinese steel and aluminum and touted his administration’s $1.5 billion investment into six “clean steel” projects across the country.

Speaking just before the president, the CEO of Century Aluminum Company, Jesse Gary, announced a $500 million grant would be used to build the first new American smelter in 45 years.

It will be “one of the greenest smelters in the world, powered by cutting-edge technology and renewable energy.”

Mr. Gary also criticized the Chinese for emitting more tons of carbon dioxide in their production efforts.

President Biden elaborated further on his administration’s plans to push EVs and green energy across the country and reminded his audience that under his Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, 500,000 EV charging stations are being created.

“I’m determined that the future of electric vehicles will be made in America by union workers. Period,” the president said as the crowd applauded.

“And we’ll do it by following international trade laws.”

According to White House officials, $18 billion worth of annual Chinese imports will be affected by tariff hikes, and the existing tariffs levied against about $300 billion of annual goods from China by the Trump administration will stay in effect if they do not increase.

The president emphasized that he wanted “fair competition with China, not conflict” and said that due to his administration’s investment in America, the nation was in a stronger position to win “that economic competition of the 21st century.”

“America is rising,” he said. “We have the best economy in the world. And since I’ve come into office, the GDP is up, our trade deficit with China is down to the lowest level in over a decade, and we’re standing up against Chinese ‘government’ unfair economic practices now.”

After the president’s speech, ambassador and U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai echoed the president’s intent with the new tariffs during the White House daily press briefing, adding that the United States continues to consult with its partners and allies voicing their own concerns and taking action against unfair trade practices.

She also addressed further concerns about a possible rise in conflict with China.

“What we are doing today should by no means be a surprise to our counterparts in Beijing,” she said.

“We have made clear this is not about escalation. This is about the consequences of decades of economic policy and the need for the United States to defend our rights.”

One reporter then highlighted that the U.S. EV industry is also significantly subsidized by its federal government, and asked the ambassador to describe how it was different than what the Chinese Communist Party was doing.

She said the Chinese subsidies are aimed at “cornering the world market and achieving dominance and creating dependency.”

“The types of support that we’re talking about here are defensive in nature,” she said. “They’re about creating the space to compete, the space to thrive, the space to survive the kind of onslaught that we are seeing across the board.”

However, the Chinese communist regime was quick to push back against the tariffs.

“It’s a naked act of bullying,” said Chinese foreign ministry spokesperson Wang Wenbin, according to The Associated Press.

He also said the tariffs are trampling on the principles of a market economy, as well as international economic and trade rules.

China’s commerce ministry called the tariffs “typical political manipulation” in a statement, expressing its “strong dissatisfaction” and pledging to “take resolute measures to defend its rights and interests.”

President Biden was asked about the possibility of China’s retaliation during an interview with Yahoo Finance, and said that: “China already is, what you might say, way over their skis on this.”

“I don’t think it‘ll lead to any international conflict or anything like that, but I think they’ll probably try to figure out how they can raise tariffs, maybe on products that are unrelated,” he said.

Terri Wu and the Associated Press contributed to this report.