Biden vows to block Japanese purchase of US Steel and could triple tariffs on some Chinese goods

President Joe Biden greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, 17 April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh (AP)
President Joe Biden greeting steelworkers at United Steelworkers Headquarters, Wednesday, 17 April 17, 2024, in Pittsburgh (AP)

President Joe Biden vowed to prevent US Steel from being acquired by a Japanese competitor and said he could soon triple tariffs on Chinese-made aluminium and steel imports if an investigation finds that the Chinese government is still engaging in anticompetitive practices to bolster its state-subsidised industries.

Mr Biden, who has described himself as the “most pro-union president in US history,” made the announcements before an enthusiastic audience of union steelworkers in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the location of the iconic American steel producer, which in March announced it would be acquired by Japan’s Nippon Steel.

He noted that he’d announced his 2020 campaign for president nearly five years before in Pittsburgh, and recalled how he’d said he was running to “rebuild the backbone” of the US middle class — which he described as having “a steel spine”.

“US Steel has been an iconic American company for more than a century, and it should remain totally American,” he said.

“American owned, American operated by American union steelworkers — the best in the world. And that’s gonna happen, I promise you,” he added.

The president also said he is considering tripling tariffs on Chinese-made steel and aluminium first imposed by his predecessor, Donald Trump, pending the result of an investigation currently being overseen by US Trade Representative Katherine Tai.

“For too long, the Chinese government has poured state money into Chinese steel companies, pushing them to make so much steel as much as possible subsidised by the Chinese government. Because Chinese steel companies produce a lot more steel than China needs, it ends up dumping extra steel on the global markets at unfairly low prices,” he said, adding that Chinese companies don’t need to worry about profitability because they are state-subsidised.

“They’re not competing — they’re cheating,” he said.

Mr Biden also described how China’s dumping of steel has eroded the economies of steel-making areas across Pennsylvania and promised that he would not let anything like that happen again.

“My US Trade Representative is investigating trade practices by the Chinese government regarding steel and aluminium. If that investment confirms these anti-competitive trade practices, then I’m calling on her to consider tripling the tariff rates for both steel and aluminium imports from China,” he said.

The president also announced that he and Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador have been in talks to tackle China’s use of Mexico as a cut-out to avoid those same tariffs.

“Mexico and the United States are going to work together to solve it. I promise you,” he said.

He added that he is poised to take action, pending a separate set of investigation results, to protect American shipbuilding from Chinese dumping practices.

“Taken together, these are strategic and targeted actions that are going to protect American workers and ensure fair competition,” he explained before contrasting his actions with those of Mr Trump, who has vowed to institute an across-the-board tariff — an import tax paid by American consumers — on all Chinese-made goods.

“It’s estimated that would cost the average American family an average of $1,500 a year if they succeeded in doing that. Trump simply doesn’t get it,” he said.