An overwhelming number of U.S. registered voters say they support higher tariffs on goods imported from China.
According to a poll released this week by Morning Consult, 73% of survey respondents said they support the U.S. government using trade remedies on China to protect U.S. industries and American workers with a similar high number — 71% — supporting the trade war tariffs imposed on $250 billion worth of China imports during the Trump administration.
Even with inflation at levels not seen since the 1970s, American voters seem willing to force companies to import from elsewhere or make it locally instead.
“I am not surprised by these numbers,” says Harsh Khurana, CEO of WeCultivate, a tech company funded in part by Mark Cuban, that works as a browser extension on Amazon AMZN to show consumers American-made products. “Tariffs hurt the American consumer more than they hurt China’s manufacturing because the price increase gets distributed down to us, which is partially why our inflation numbers are so high,” he says. “Still, Americans — regardless of political stance — want to buy U.S.-made products.”
The poll was conducted by Morning Consult for the Coalition for a Prosperous America, a Washington DC think tank and advocacy organization.
American multinationals have offshored billions of dollars worth of manufactured goods (and labor) to China since it entered the World Trade Organization in 2001. Apple AAPL , Nike NKE , and numerous other brand name companies all contract with Chinese manufacturers in order to sell goods at higher profit margins in the U.S., the world’s most coveted consumer market.
Despite support for protectionist measures against imports from China, some members of Congress want to remove them.
The Biden administration’s own U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) recently made moves to weaken tariffs on China goods this year, allowing for more exemptions under the so-called Section 301 tariffs from the Trump era. The White House allowed for the relaxing of tariffs on the solar industry in February, an industry almost fully dominated by Chinese multinationals spread throughout Asia.
From the Morning Consult survey:
- 61% of voters believe that increased imports have caused the U.S. to become dependent on China for goods that are critical to the U.S. economy and U.S. national security.
- 60% of voters oppose China continuing to receive Most Favored Nation trade status with the U.S. which give it a 3.4% tariff for imports.
- 61% of voters support the U.S. government banning Chinese companies from U.S. capital markets that have been sanctioned or do not comply with U.S. securities laws.
The Politicians in Favor of “Made in China”
One of the more ridiculous pieces of evidence of Capitol Hill’s deaf ears on China came this winter. That’s when the chief medical staff of the House of Representatives ordered everyone in N95 face masks in order to stop the spread of Covid-19. The masks were stamped with Made in China across their cotton-white muzzle.
In February, the Biden White House chose to do away with tariffs on double-sided solar panels used mainly by utility companies. Those tariffs were always in limbo due to lawsuits by solar panel importers who went after the Trump administration for imposing them. But the International Trade Commission, an independent bipartisan body that examines trade issues, recommended in November that Biden reinstate those tariffs. President Biden chose not to do that for the double-sided panels, known in the industry as bifacial panels. Most bifacials come from China or are made by Chinese multinationals in Southeast Asia.
President Biden has repeatedly said he wants to manufacture more goods in the United States. He even … [+]
Late last year, the Senate passed the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act. It was marketed to the media as “the China bill” – a way to pave the way for the U.S. to compete with the non-market, mercantilist economy of China.
But in that bill was a trade provision called the Trade Act of 2021, written by Senator Mike Crapo (R-IN) and approved by Senate Finance Committee chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) that would allow for easier exemptions on the China trade war tariffs, and give the legislative branch say over what the executive branch does with those tariffs going forward.
That trade division garnered the support of Senator Richard Burr (R-NC), whose state suffered numerous job losses due to a China-centric globalization, as well as Senator Todd Young (R-IN), who has touted his toughness on China in the past.
For Senator Wyden’s part, his argument was that he allowed for the Trade Act provision to be included in the China bill in order to garner more Republican support for it.
But Democrats have also proven to be anti-tariff on China goods.
Senator Jacky Rosen (D-NV) led a bipartisan group of 8 senators in a letter to President Biden and Katherine Tai of the USTR to push for the removal of solar tariffs in January. Senator Diane Feinstein (D-CA), who had a Chinese spy as her limo driver for years, also signed the letter.
On April 21, Deputy National Security Adviser Daleep Singh said tariffs should be removed on China goods, a total high-five to American multinationals and other companies who refused to shift supply chains out of China when the trade war began in earnest under the previous government.
“For product categories that are not implicated by those (national security) objectives, there’s not much of a case for those tariffs being in place,” he told an event hosted by the Bretton Woods Committee. “Why do we have tariffs on bicycles or apparel or underwear?”
The Section 301 tariffs were comprised of four lists. Only three lists were tariffed. List four has an additional $300 billion worth of goods that were to be tariffed as high as 15%. The Biden administration can impose those tariffs. But it has chosen not to do so despite some saber-rattling about China’s support of Russia, currently in a war with Ukraine. There is no talk at all in Washington about activating List 4 tariffs.
“Singh may be a whiz kid, but he is clearly a bad diplomat,” editorial writers for India newspaper First Post wrote on April 2. Singh, unaware of U.S. voter interests in China, spent a recent trip to India lambasting an ally government on its decision to maintain economic ties with Russia. For India, Singh serves as another example of a Washington replete with bad takes.
Globalization: Free Trade Dies Again
For close globalization watchers, this one world capitalist free trader model has been on the outs since the Battle in Seattle in 1999. By the mid-2000s, everyone from The Economist to the Financial Times and even Davos Man himself inside the World Economic Forum have lamented the autumn years of globalization.
Everyone is trying to explain the changes taking place to the globalization model. The theme has become a hot topic, with the WSJ taking on the subject on April 15.
During China’s first 20 years of opening up, between 1978 and 2001, China did not allow for unconstrained imports. If it did, it would have seen its manufacturing base replaced by U.S., European, Indian, South Korean and Japanese imports. China, to date, has only opened its market to please some free traders (and the “Western rules-based economic order”) under tight controls. It has defied those rules ever since.
Perhaps no other country has benefited so obviously from globalization as China. There are no bullet trains in Brazil or India. Millions have not left poverty in Latin America like they have in China, according to the World Bank.
In fact, an increasing number have fallen into poverty in countries left behind and increasingly dependent on China, hamstrung by its own national corruption and incompetence. Argentina comes to mind.
The U.S. benefits were mostly in the form of cheaper goods. Walmart WMT was able to source lower-cost labor that built patio furniture and made pots and pans with chemicals they could pour down a river if they wanted to. Wall Street benefited most recently with new markets opening up in mainland China and new product lines in the form of China securities for sale to investors here and abroad.
But due to the pandemic and the on-again-off-again problems of the China-centric supply chain, Americans are more aware than ever of the role China plays in their lives, for better or for worse.
Politicians who go easy on China by calling for lower tariffs and talks of “free trade” with Asia to counter China, will be headwinds for those looking for wins in the November mid-term elections.
“It’d be interesting to see if Biden tries to get rid of tariffs to make things easier on inflation,” says Vladimir Signorelli, founder of Bretton Woods Research, a boutique investment research firm out of Long Valley, New Jersey.
“You can have a strong economy with low inflation and still have tariffs on Chinese goods. That’s already been proven by Trump,” he says, adding that most Republican voters would agree. “Democratic voters might be running over human rights issues in China. Most of the energy in that party is with the Bernie Sanders wing. I don’t see a strong, corporatist argument helping them win over voters. Period,” Signorelli says.
At a Heritage Foundation event held on Amelia Island in Florida on April 21, the man who convinced much of Washington that China was more than America’s factory said that his average supporter was part of “a working people’s movement.”
Said Trump, “Our movement must continue to pursue a populist-nationalist economic agenda that puts working families before globalist politicians.”