Former President Donald Trump's "go-it-alone trade war" was "an unmitigated disaster, inflicting maximum pain on American workers and farmers" while failing to coerce desired changes from China, President Biden's campaign website (correctly) charged. There and in speeches on the campaign trail, Biden made clear he was no free-trader, but he also bashed Trump's hawkish style and suggested Americans could expect changes, particularly where trade with Europe was concerned. He at least understood — as Trump evidently did not — that U.S. tariffs are taxes paid by the American people.
Yet it was evident even before Biden took office that winding down the trade war with China was not on his agenda despite the severe and unrewarded economic costs it has exacted. Half a year later, it seems safe to render a verdict on trade conflict with Europe, too. As Reason's Eric Boehm wrote Monday, "Trump's trade war with Europe is Biden's trade war now."
In fairness, it hasn't gotten worse. A U.S.-European Union joint statement Monday announced the beginning of "discussions on the mutual resolution of concerns" around Trump-originated steel tariffs that will "avoid changes ... that negatively affect bilateral trade" and "find solutions before the end of the year." As part of that diplomatic launch, the EU "agreed to postpone plans to raise tariffs on American whiskeys, motorcycles, boats, and other items set to take effect June 1," The Wall Street Journal reported Monday. That is particularly welcome news for U.S. whiskey distillers, who were facing a tariff jump from 25 to 50 percent and had already lost more than half their EU export sales since the 25 percent tax was imposed.
That sort of harm is what makes Biden's slow-motion trade détente with Europe so frustrating and inadequate. The tariffs the United States imposes on other nations' goods cost American consumers; the retaliatory tariffs other nations impose on our goods cost American producers; and none of this financial pain has proven useful for its ostensible beneficiaries, like the steel industry.
The only winners here are governments raking in new taxes and claiming it's an act of beneficence. It's not, and Biden should wholly drop the trade war he partially decried last year.