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Biden calls for tripling of tariffs on Chinese steel

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US President Joe Biden is pushing for tariffs to triple on Chinese steel and aluminium, as he seeks to boost union support in the swing state of Pennsylvania.

In a meeting with United Steelworkers union members in Pittsburgh on Wednesday, Biden will call on trade representative Katherine Tai to triple the tariff on the imports from the current average of 7.5 per cent.

Biden’s campaign is trying to shore up support among union workers ahead of November’s US presidential election, in which Pennsylvania could play a decisive role.

“It is important for us to get ahead of China’s new export surge and their continued pressure on prices that make it hard for American steel companies to compete,” said a senior US official, who added that the actions had “nothing to do with elections”.

Tai is nearing completion of a statutory review of the tariffs that former president Donald Trump levied in his trade war against China.

She is also set on Wednesday to unveil a probe into unfair practices in the Chinese shipbuilding industry, following a petition from United Steelworkers.

The US official argued that since imports of Chinese steel were “quite small” at 0.6 per cent of total US steel demand, there would be little impact on inflation, a key electoral concern for Biden.

“We must invest in American manufacturing, but we also have to protect those investments and those workers from unfair exports associated with China’s industrial overcapacity,” said White House national economic adviser Lael Brainard.

Treasury secretary Janet Yellen raised the issue of Chinese overcapacity during a visit to Beijing this month.

China’s export volumes rose by 14 per cent year on year for the first quarter, even as their value fell 12 per cent, according to Morgan Stanley.

The Biden administration’s move to increase tariffs is likely to affect recent efforts by Washington and Beijing to stabilise relations, which last year plummeted to their lowest level since the countries established diplomatic ties in 1979.

The Pittsburgh announcements come as the Biden campaign is seeking to overcome Trump in Pennsylvania, which has played a decisive role in past elections.

Biden expressed opposition a month ago to the proposed acquisition of US Steel by Japanese group Nippon Steel, in what was viewed as a political move that upset Japan, a critical ally.  

Trump has previously stressed that he would block Nippon Steel’s proposed $14.9bn offer for US Steel.

Biden, who was born in Scranton, Pennsylvania, has spent more time campaigning for re-election in the state than in any other.

Trump beat Hillary Clinton in Pennsylvania by less than one percentage point in 2016. Four years later, Biden beat Trump by just over one point. A RealClearPolitics average of state opinion polls show Biden and Trump statistically tied in the state.

The White House said Biden told his team to work with Mexico to ensure China could not evade US tariffs by exporting steel to the US via Mexico.

The move on steel imports and probe into Chinese shipbuilding are the latest measures by the Biden administration to tackle what Washington views as unfair economic practices or tackle national security issues.

In February, Biden ordered a probe into Chinese “connected vehicles” to determine if they would enable the Chinese government to access the data that the smart cars collect on their drivers.

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