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US President Joe Biden announced a series of tariff increases on various Chinese imports, including electric vehicles, computer chips, and medical products. This move risks an election-year standoff with Beijing as Biden aims to appeal to voters critical of his economic policies.

Biden will maintain tariffs introduced by his Republican predecessor, Donald Trump, while increasing others. The White House stated that this decision is due to “unacceptable risks” to US “economic security” from what it sees as unfair Chinese practices that flood global markets with cheap goods.

The new measures affect $18 billion worth of Chinese imports, including steel and aluminium, semiconductors, batteries, critical minerals, solar cells, and cranes, according to the White House.

In 2023, the United States imported $427 billion in goods from China and exported $148 billion, according to the US Census Bureau. This trade gap, which has persisted for decades, remains a sensitive issue in Washington.

“China’s using the same playbook it has before to power its own growth at the expense of others by continuing to invest, despite excess Chinese capacity and flooding global markets with exports that are underpriced due to unfair practices,” White House National Economic Adviser Lael Brainard told reporters on a conference call.

The White House claimed that Trump’s 2020 trade deal with China did not boost American exports or manufacturing jobs. It also argued that Trump’s proposal of 10% tariffs on goods from all origins would strain US alliances and increase prices. Trump has suggested tariffs of 60% or more on all Chinese goods.

According to Reuters, administration officials described their measures as “carefully targeted,” combined with domestic investment, planned with close allies, and unlikely to exacerbate inflation that has already frustrated US voters and jeopardised Biden’s re-election campaign. They also minimised the risk of retaliation from Beijing.

As part of the anticipated tariff update, Biden will increase tariffs this year under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 from 25% to 100% on EVs, from 7.5% to 25% on lithium-ion EV batteries and parts, and from 25% to 50% on photovoltaic cells for solar panels. “Certain” critical minerals will have their tariffs raised from zero to 25%.

Tariffs on ship-to-shore cranes will rise from zero to 25%, those on syringes and needles from zero to 50%, and some personal protective equipment (PPE) used in medical facilities from as low as zero to 25%. Shortages of PPE, largely made in China, hindered the US response to COVID-19.

More tariffs will follow in 2025 and 2026 on semiconductors, with the tariff rate doubling to 50%, as well as on lithium-ion batteries not used in electric vehicles, graphite, permanent magnets, and rubber medical and surgical gloves.