World’s democracies must unite on trade policy: Biden

WILMINGTON (Delaware) • US President-elect Joe Biden has said the country must join forces with other democracies to present a united front in global trade policy as a counterweight to China.

“The idea that we’re poking our fingers in the eyes of our friends and embracing autocrats makes no sense to me,” Mr Biden said in a press conference on Monday to discuss his economic plan.

He pledged to release details of his trade policy agenda on Jan 21 – the day after he takes office.

Outgoing President Donald Trump used an aggressive trade policy against friend and foe alike, imposing tariffs on steel, aluminium and other goods from Canada, Mexico and the European Union, in addition to China.

Mr Biden said: “We need to be aligned with the other democracies… so we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes because they are the only game in town.”

The Trump administration eschewed multilateral organisations, and hamstrung the World Trade Organisation over claims it was unfair to the US, paralysing the dispute settlement body and blocking the naming of a new director general.

Mr Trump’s rhetoric was generally more friendly towards Russia and North Korea.

Mr Biden said he has spoken to some world leaders in general terms about trade issues, but declined to get into specifics with them on what he might do – including whether he would join a new Asia-Pacific free trade pact – because “there is only one president at a time”.

He said he will not pursue “punitive” trade policy, but rather aim to make US workers more competitive, and ensure labour and environmental leaders “are at the table in any trade deals we make”.

Meanwhile, the US Chamber of Commerce on Monday said it was concerned that the country was being left behind after 15 Asia-Pacific economies on Sunday formed the world’s largest free-trade bloc, cementing China’s dominant role in regional trade.

The chamber has welcomed the trade-liberalising benefits of the new Regional Comprehensive Partnership Agreement (RCEP), saying US exporters, workers and farmers needed greater access to Asian markets.

RCEP covers 30 per cent of the global economy and 30 per cent of the global population, joining for the first time Asian powers China, Japan and South Korea.

The US is absent from both RCEP and the successor to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, leaving the world’s biggest economy out of two trade groups that span the world’s fastest-growing region.