More hurt will be inflicted if Washington continues to politicize trade issues
China Daily

File photo shows the national flags of China (right) and the United States on the Constitution Avenue in Washington, capital of the United States. (Photo: Xinhua)

That the Office of the United States Trade Representative last week decided to reinstate some expired product exclusions from "Section 301" tariffs on Chinese imports demonstrates how deeply the two economies are interwoven, and how mutually beneficial their interdependence is.

As a remedy for the blanket punitive tariffs the Donald Trump administration imposed on Chinese products in its trade war against China, such exclusions were meant to cushion the inevitable backlash for the US' own consumer market and economy as a whole.

The political calculations behind it notwithstanding, Trump's trade war has not benefited US consumers and industries, or the national economy.

It would be an all-win scenario for the Chinese, US and global economies if the US were to lift all these unfair and to a large degree self-debilitating tariffs, as the Chinese Ministry of Commerce has urged.

"Amid inflation spikes and challenges to the global economic recovery, we hope the US will scrap all tariffs on Chinese products as soon as possible for the fundamental interests of consumers and producers in China and the US," a spokeswoman for the ministry said in response to the USTR decision.

But although that move is badly needed in this bleak economic climate, there is no sign that it will happen any time soon.

For one thing, it is misleading to interpret Washington's decision as being "symbolic". Just as China extended tariff exclusions on more than 200 American commodities in September and December 2021, the US decision was made based on its own needs. It is thus more appropriate to call it pragmatic.

It is worth mentioning that the Office of the USTR only reinstated exclusion for 352 out of the 549 goods it was previously considering, and the list published covers mostly products such as backpacks and bicycles that are easily replaceable and with low added value.

US Trade Representative Katherine Tai has also made it very clear that Washington is planning to more actively pressure China on trade, and it is preparing a "new approach" for that purpose, which reportedly may include a new Section 301 probe leading to new tariffs, even embargoes.

Washington needs new, more effective tools to more actively pressure China to change trade practices that Washington believes distort the market, she told Reuters in an interview.

"We're not going to stop pushing China and challenging China to reform and change. But we can't afford to keep sitting on our hands and waiting for China to make its decision," she said.

But as we have all witnessed in the past few years, politicizing economic and trade issues does no good to either side. Continuing to do so will only add further uncertainty to bilateral trade and broader relations, which will ultimately inflict more harm on both countries and their peoples.