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Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tours a metal fabricating facility in Dunmore, Pa. Then-Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden tours a metal fabricating facility in Dunmore, Pa., July 9, 2020 (AP photo by Matt Slocum).

After Trump, Biden May Change the Tone on Trade More Than the Substance

Tuesday, Nov. 10, 2020

Donald Trump has been an unorthodox president, to say the least. Much of America and the rest of the world is hoping for a return to some semblance of normality under President-elect Joe Biden. But what might that mean on trade? The traditional take on American trade politics for decades has been that Republicans tend to be free traders while Democrats are more skeptical. Trump certainly turned that on its head. Yet after he started imposing tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in imports, several polls—which obviously have to be taken with a grain of salt—showed most Americans becoming more supportive of trade and globalization. Biden has also been critical of Trump’s “America First” trade policy, especially the rejection of multilateralism, but the changes under his administration are likely to be more incremental than transformational.

During his decades in the Senate and as Barack Obama’s vice president, Biden behaved like a pretty traditional, centrist Democrat. His blue-collar roots in Scranton, Pennsylvania, did put him somewhat to the left of President Bill Clinton, who ushered the North American Free Trade Agreement through Congress, and China into the World Trade Organization. As a senator, Biden supported both of those moves, but he also voted against a number of bilateral free trade agreements negotiated by President George W. Bush’s administration. Biden shares the widespread concerns in Washington about the direction of China under Xi Jinping, but he also criticized Trump’s tariffs, correctly noting they are taxes on American consumers. ...

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