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    Biden Weighs Tariff Rollback to Ease Inflation, Even a Little Bit

    While lifting some levies on China is unlikely to put a large dent in inflation, administration officials concede they have few other options to address surging prices.WASHINGTON — President Biden is weighing whether to roll back some of the tariffs that former President Donald J. Trump imposed on Chinese goods, in hopes of mitigating the most rapid price gains in 40 years, according to senior administration officials.Business groups and some outside economists have been pressuring the administration to relax at least a portion of the taxes on imports, saying it would be a significant step that the president could take to immediately cut costs for consumers.Yet any action by the administration to lift the tariffs is unlikely to put a large dent in an inflation rate that hit 8.6 percent in May — while the political ramifications could be severe. An influential study this year predicted that a move to lift tariffs could save households $797 a year, but administration officials say the actual effect would most likely be far smaller, in part because there is no chance Mr. Biden will roll back all of the federal government’s tariffs and other protectionist trade measures.The tariff discussion comes at a precarious time for the economy. Persistent inflation has shattered consumer confidence, driven stock markets into bear territory — down 20 percent from their January high — and inflamed fears of a recession as the Federal Reserve moves quickly to raise interest rates.Some administration economists privately estimate the tariff reductions that Mr. Biden is considering would reduce the overall inflation rate by as little as a quarter of a percentage point. Still, in a sign of how big a political problem inflation has become, officials are weighing at least a partial relaxation anyway, in part because the president has few other options.The China tariffs are raising the price of goods for American consumers by essentially adding a tax on top of what they already pay for imported goods. In theory, removing the tariffs could reduce inflation if companies cut — or stopped raising — prices on those products.Mr. Biden has said taming inflation rests mainly with the Federal Reserve, which is trying to cool demand by making money more expensive to borrow and spend. The Fed is expected to raise interest rates on Wednesday, possibly making its biggest increase since 1994, as it tries to get persistent inflation under control. The prospect of big rate increases has spooked Wall Street, which entered bear market territory on Monday before steadying on Tuesday.Any move to tweak the tariffs could carry significant trade-offs. It could encourage companies to keep their supply chains in China, undercutting another White House priority to bring jobs back to America. And it could expose Mr. Biden — and his Democratic allies in Congress — to attacks that he is letting Beijing off the hook when America’s economic relationship with China has become openly hostile, deepening a wedge issue for the midterm elections and the next presidential race.China has yet to live up to the commitments it made as part of the U.S.-China trade deal that Mr. Trump negotiated, including failing to purchase significant amounts of natural gas, Boeing airplanes and other American products. Mr. Trump imposed tariffs on the bulk of products the United States imports from China as part of a pressure campaign aimed at forcing China to change its economic practices. More than two years later, the United States retains a 25 percent tariff on about $160 billion of Chinese products, while another $105 billion, mostly consumer goods, are taxed at 7.5 percent.While Mr. Biden has criticized the way in which Mr. Trump wielded tariffs, he has also acknowledged that China’s economic practices pose a threat to America.Understand Inflation and How It Impacts YouInflation 101: What is inflation, why is it up and whom does it hurt? Our guide explains it all.Greedflation: Some experts contend that big corporations are supercharging inflation by jacking up prices. We take a closer look at the issue. Inflation Calculator: How you experience inflation can vary greatly depending on your spending habits. Answer these seven questions to estimate your personal inflation rate.For Investors: At last, interest rates for money market funds have started to rise. But inflation means that in real terms, you’re still losing money.Business groups like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and economists like Lawrence H. Summers, a Treasury secretary under President Bill Clinton, have urged the White House to repeal as many tariffs as possible, saying it would help consumers deal with rising prices.Mr. Summers and others have approvingly cited the March study on the issue from economists at the Peterson Institute for International Economics, who argued that a “feasible package” of tariff removal — which includes repealing a range of levies and trade programs, not just those applied to China — could cause a one-time reduction in the Consumer Price Index of 1.3 percentage points, amounting to a gain of $797 per American household.In an interview, Mr. Summers said reducing tariffs was “probably the most potent microeconomic or structural action the administration can take to reduce prices and inflationary pressure relatively rapidly.”But even those inside the administration who support easing the tariffs are skeptical that the move would produce anywhere close to the amount of relief that Mr. Summers and others have predicted.“I think some reductions may be warranted and could help to bring down prices of things that people buy that are burdensome,” Janet L. Yellen, the Treasury secretary and an advocate of some tariff rollbacks, told a House committee last week. “I want to make clear, I honestly don’t think tariff policy is a panacea with respect to inflation.”Ms. Yellen met on Tuesday with the board of directors of the National Retail Federation, which has long argued against the tariffs and recently made the case that eliminating them would ease inflation.One key question is whether companies that are given tariff relief would actually pass those savings on in the form of lower prices or choose to absorb them as profits. Consumers have so far continued to pay more for everyday items, a fact that corporations have cited in earnings calls with investors as a reason they can charge more.David French, senior vice president of government relations at the National Retail Federation, said the administration had been trying to understand how quickly tariff cuts would translate into pricing changes, and seeking assurances from retailers that any savings would be passed along to American consumers.“I think in the administration’s mind, there’s going to be a price rollback and money is going to come off the price tag,” he said. “I’m not sure you’re going to see a dramatic change like that.”Instead of price decreases, for example, stores may choose to hold off on increasing prices even more. Retailers “will do as much as they can to demonstrate dramatic changes in pricing where possible,” but they still face pent-up pressures in the supply chain in terms of cost, he said.Rising prices have socked Americans across the economy, draining families’ purchasing power and contributing to a steady decline in Mr. Biden’s approval ratings. The Consumer Price Index was up 8.6 percent in May from a year earlier, its fastest growth rate in 40 years. Mr. Biden says he has made fighting inflation his top economic priority.Unloading cargo at the Port of Los Angeles in March. The United States still has a 25 percent tariff on about $160 billion of Chinese products that was imposed by the Trump administration.Coley Brown for The New York TimesLast week, Mr. Biden announced a two-year pause on tariffs on imported solar panels, which could reduce costs for domestic consumers but which effectively pre-empted a Commerce Department investigation into illegal trade practices by Chinese manufacturers.Domestic trade groups, labor leaders and populist Democrats like Representative Tim Ryan of Ohio, who is locked in a competitive Senate race, have pushed Mr. Biden to keep the tariffs. Mr. Ryan held a news conference on Tuesday urging Mr. Biden not to yield any economic ground to Beijing.Economists disagree on how much inflation relief the administration could get by removing the tariffs.Inflation F.A.Q.Card 1 of 5What is inflation? More

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    Biden to Pause New Solar Tariffs as White House Aims to Boost Adoption

    WASHINGTON — The Biden administration on Monday announced a two-year pause on imposing any new tariffs on the solar industry, a decision that follows an outcry from importers who have complained the levies are threatening broader adoption of solar energy in the United States.The move is a victory for domestic solar installers, who said the tariffs would put at risk the Biden administration’s goal of significantly cutting carbon emissions by the end of the decade by reducing the flow of products into the United States. But it goes against the wishes of some American solar manufacturers and their defenders, who have been pushing the administration to erect tougher barriers on cheap imports to help revive the domestic industry.It was the latest example of President Biden’s being caught between competing impulses when it comes to trying to steer the United States away from planet-warming fossil fuels, as he has pledged to do. By limiting tariffs, Mr. Biden will ensure a sufficient and cheap supply of solar panels at a time of high inflation and attempt to put stalled solar projects back on track. But the decision will postpone other White House efforts that might have punished Chinese companies for trade violations and lessened Beijing’s role in global supply chains.To counteract complaints by the domestic solar industry, the administration said that Mr. Biden would attempt to speed U.S. manufacturing of solar components, including by invoking the authorities of the Defense Production Act, which gives the president expanded powers and funding to direct the activities of private businesses.The prospect of additional tariffs stemmed from an ongoing investigation by the Commerce Department, which is looking into whether Chinese solar firms — which are already subject to tariffs — tried to get around those levies by moving their operations out of China and into Southeast Asia.Auxin Solar, a small manufacturer of solar panels based in California, had requested the inquiry, which is examining imports from Vietnam, Malaysia, Thailand and Cambodia.In 2020, 89 percent of the solar modules used in the United States were imported, with Southeast Asian countries accounting for the bulk of the shipments.If the Commerce Department determines that the factories were set up to circumvent U.S. tariffs, the administration could retroactively impose tariffs on shipments to the United States. But under the tariff “pause” that Mr. Biden ordered on Monday, such levies could not be imposed for the next two years.The decision is the latest turn in a long game of whack-a-mole the U.S. government has played against low-priced imports in the solar industry.While U.S. companies were some of the first to introduce solar technology, China came to dominate global solar manufacturing in recent decades by subsidizing production and creating a vibrant domestic market for solar installation. In 2011, the United States imposed duties on Chinese products to counteract subsidies and unfairly low prices. U.S. installers then started buying more products from Taiwan, but in 2015 the United States imposed duties on Taiwan as well.Trade experts said that pausing the tariffs could undercut trade laws aimed at protecting American workers by allowing companies in China to continue flooding the United States with cheap imports.Auxin Solar, a California manufacturer of solar panels.Anastasiia Sapon for The New York TimesMamun Rashid, chief executive of Auxin Solar.Anastasiia Sapon for The New York TimesOn Monday, Auxin’s chief executive, Mamun Rashid, said President Biden was interfering with the investigation.“By taking this unprecedented — and potentially illegal — action, he has opened the door wide for Chinese-funded special interests to defeat the fair application of U.S. trade law,” Mr. Rashid said in a statement.To pause the tariffs, a Biden administration official said the administration was invoking a section of the 1930 Tariff Act, which allows the president to suspend certain import duties to address an emergency. Commerce Department officials said their investigation would continue and that any tariffs that resulted from their findings would begin after the 24-month pause expired.“The president’s emergency declaration ensures America’s families have access to reliable and clean electricity while also ensuring we have the ability to hold our trading partners accountable to their commitments,” Gina Raimondo, the Commerce secretary, said in a release.The possibility of tariffs has touched off an ugly battle in recent months over the future of the U.S. solar industry.American solar companies have said that the prospect of more — and retroactive — tariffs was already having a chilling effect on imports. Groups such as the Solar Energy Industries Association, whose members include several Chinese manufacturers with U.S. operations, have been lobbying the White House against the tariffs and on Monday welcomed news that the administration would pause any new levies.“Today’s actions protect existing solar jobs, will lead to increased employment in the solar industry and foster a robust solar manufacturing base here at home,” Abigail Ross Hopper, the president and chief executive of S.E.I.A., said in an emailed statement.“During the two-year tariff suspension window,” she said, “the U.S. solar industry can return to rapid deployment while the Defense Production Act helps grow American solar manufacturing.”Companies that rely on imported products — and U.S. officials who are prioritizing the transition to solar energy — have been complaining that the Commerce Department inquiry has injected uncertainty into future pricing for the solar market, slowing the transition away from fossil fuels. NextEra Energy, one of the largest renewable energy companies in the country, had said it expected to delay the installation of between two and three gigawatts worth of solar and storage construction — enough to power more than a million homes.“The last couple of months we have had to pause all construction efforts,” said Scott Buckley, president of Green Lantern Solar, a solar installer based in Vermont. Mr. Buckley said his company had been forced to put about 10 projects on hold, which would have resulted in the installation of about 50 acres of solar panels.Mr. Buckley said there was no easy solution to the country’s reliance on imported products in the short term and that the White House’s actions on Monday would allow companies like his to resume installations this year.“This is a get back to work order,” he said. “That’s the way I think about it. Let’s clear the logjams.”Solar panels made in China. Major industry groups, some of which include Chinese manufacturers, had been lobbying the Biden administration to take action against the tariffs.Adam Dean for The New York TimesBut domestic solar producers and U.S. labor unions have said that the recent surge in imports from Chinese companies doing their manufacturing in Southeast Asia clearly violates U.S. trade law, which forbids companies to try to avoid U.S. tariffs by moving production or assembly of a product to another country.The domestic producers have accused importers — who have close commercial ties with China — of exaggerating their industry’s hardships to try to sway the Biden administration and preserve profit margins that stem from unfairly priced imports.“If you have a supply chain that depends on dumped and subsidized imports, then you’ve got a problem with your supply chain,” said Scott Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing.“We’re getting dependent on hostile countries without sufficient domestic production to ensure against price hikes and supply shocks,” said Michael Stumo, chief executive of Coalition for a Prosperous America, a nonprofit group that promotes domestic manufacturing. “Whether it’s medicine, or PPE, or solar panels, you’ve got to have domestic production.”Some critics also said the legal rationale for the White House’s moves was specious, arguing that the administration was effectively declaring a state of emergency because of the consequences of its own trade laws.Scott Lincicome, a trade policy expert at the Cato Institute, a libertarian think tank, said that the administration’s actions seemed to be “quite the stretch of the statute.”The trade law provision that Mr. Biden invoked allows the president to “declare an emergency to exist by reason of a state of war, or otherwise,” and during such a state of emergency to import “food, clothing, and medical, surgical, and other supplies for use in emergency relief work” duty free.He said critics of U.S. tariffs had long proposed a “public interest” test that would allow levies to be lifted to mitigate broader economic harm, but Congress had never approved such an action.In a letter late last month, Senators Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Bob Casey of Pennsylvania, both Democrats, complained that solar importers had spent “millions of dollars on advertising and lobbying to urge political interference in the trade enforcement process.” Biden administration officials had previously said that the Commerce Department’s inquiry was immune to political interference, describing it as “quasi-judicial” and “apolitical.”Solar tariffs have been a source of contention for decades, but they have taken on renewed importance in recent years as the consequences of climate change became more apparent. Chinese companies have expanded internationally, allowing them to continue to ship products to the United States, while American companies have struggled to compete.The global solar industry’s dependence on China has complicated the Biden administration’s efforts to ban products linked with forced labor in Xinjiang, the northwest region where U.S. officials say Chinese authorities have detained more than one million Uyghurs and other minorities. Xinjiang is a major producer of polysilicon, the raw material for solar panels.Solar importers complained that a ban last year on solar raw materials made with forced labor by Hoshine Silicon Industry temporarily halted billions of dollars of American projects, as companies struggled to produce documentation to customs officials to prove that neither they nor their suppliers were obtaining material from Hoshine.After the Russia invasion of Ukraine in February, high gasoline prices have also impeded a broader desire to push the country away from oil and left Mr. Biden asking oil-producing nations in the Middle East and beyond to ramp up production.White House officials said Monday that Mr. Biden would sign a suite of directives meant to increase the domestic development of low-emission energy technologies. He is set to make it easier for domestic suppliers to sell solar systems to the federal government. And he will order the Department of Energy to use the Defense Production Act to “rapidly expand American manufacturing” of solar panel parts, building insulation, heat pumps, power grid infrastructure and fuel cells, the administration said in a fact sheet. More

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    Debate Over Tariffs Reveals Biden’s Difficulties on China Trade

    Sixteen months into the Biden presidency, U.S. officials are still divided over what to do about a trade legacy left by President Donald J. Trump.WASHINGTON — President Biden’s decision on Monday to try to align with Asian partners to form an economic bloc against China comes at a moment of frustration over his administration’s economic approach to Beijing, with some White House advisers pushing the president to move away from the Trump-era policies he criticized and others arguing that Mr. Biden risks being seen as weak on China if he relents.Some officials have grown frustrated that U.S. trade relations with China are still defined by policies set by President Donald J. Trump, including tariffs imposed on more than $360 billion of products and trade commitments made during a deal the United States and China signed in early 2020.Concerns about the United States’ economic approach to China have taken on new urgency amid rapid inflation. Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen and other officials have argued that the full suite of tariffs served little strategic purpose and could be at least partly lifted to ease the financial burden on companies and consumers.But those ideas have met pushback from other senior administration officials, such as some top White House aides, the U.S. trade representative and labor groups. They argue that removing the tariffs — which were put in place to punish China over its economic practices — would constitute unilateral disarmament given that Beijing has yet to address many of the policies that prompted the measures. With the midterm elections looming, some administration officials are worried that removing tariffs would make Democrats vulnerable to political attacks, according to interviews with more than a dozen current and former officials.The business community is also losing patience with the absence of a clear trade strategy nearly a year and a half into Mr. Biden’s presidency. Executives have complained about a lack of clarity, which they say has made it difficult to determine whether to continue investing in China, a critical market.The challenges in figuring out how to confront Chinese trade practices have become harder amid Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. The United States was originally moving toward making changes to its trade relationship with China in early 2022, a senior administration official said, but with Beijing aligning with Moscow, Mr. Biden felt it was prudent to see how events unfolded in Ukraine with respect to the global economy and U.S. allies.Biden administration officials are conflicted over whether to remove tariffs on Chinese goods.Doug Mills/The New York TimesSome elements of the administration’s trade strategy are becoming clearer this week. Mr. Biden announced in Japan on Monday that the United States would begin talks with 12 countries to develop a new economic framework for the Indo-Pacific region. The countries would aim to form a bloc that would provide an early warning system for supply chain issues, encourage industries to decarbonize and offer U.S. businesses reliable Asian partners outside China.The framework would not contain the binding commitments for market access that are typical of most trade deals, which have proved to be a hard sell for many Democrats after the United States withdrew from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Barack Obama’s signature trade agreement.U.S. officials say their goals for the framework will be ambitious and include raising labor and environmental standards and creating new guidelines for how data flows between countries. But some analysts have questioned whether the framework can encourage those changes without offering Asian countries the U.S. market access that is typically the incentive in trade pacts. And U.S. labor groups are already wary that some commitments could lead to further outsourcing for American industries.The framework also does not try to directly shape trade with China. Many Biden administration officials have concluded that talks with China have proved largely fruitless, as have negotiations at the World Trade Organization. Instead, they have said they would try to confront China by changing the environment around it by rebuilding alliances and investing more in the United States, including through a $1 trillion infrastructure spending bill.Senior U.S. officials hold a similar view as their counterparts in the Trump administration that the world’s dependence on the Chinese economy has given Beijing enormous strategic leverage. A classified China strategy that was largely finished last fall argues that it is important for U.S. security to delink some industries and diversify supply chains, people familiar with the strategy say.The administration was supposed to offer a glimpse of the classified strategy in a major speech laying out economic and security goals for China, which Washington officials and China experts expected to occur last fall. The White House first considered having Mr. Biden deliver the speech but settled on Secretary of State Antony J. Blinken.Yet the speech — which revolves around the slogan “Invest, Align and Compete,” according to those familiar with it — has been delayed for several reasons, including the war in Ukraine and Mr. Blinken’s contracting Covid-19 this month. Some China experts in Washington have interpreted the delays as another sign of uncertainty on China policy, but U.S. officials insist that is not true.Katherine Tai, the U.S. trade representative, and other officials have argued against dropping the tariffs.Pete Marovich for The New York TimesMr. Blinken is expected to give the China speech shortly after he and Mr. Biden return from Japan, people familiar with the planning said.The speech avoids explicitly addressing how the administration will deal with Mr. Trump’s tariffs, they say. Businesses have long complained that they hurt U.S. companies and their consumers rather than China. That concern has been heightened by the fact that prices are rising at their fastest rate in 40 years, creating a political problem for the White House, which has struggled to explain how it can alleviate soaring costs other than relying on the Federal Reserve.But Republicans and Democrats who want more aggressive policies toward China — and toward some American companies that do business there — would try to draw blood if Mr. Biden eased the tariffs.“We need to rebuild American industry, not reward companies that keep their supply chains in China,” Senator Marco Rubio, Republican of Florida, said this month after voting against a legislative amendment allowing carve-outs to the tariffs.At a news conference in Japan on Monday, Mr. Biden said he would meet with Ms. Yellen when he returned from his trip to discuss her call to remove some of the China tariffs.“I am considering it,” the president said. “We did not impose any of those tariffs; they were imposed by the previous administration, and they are under consideration.”Public rifts among Biden officials have been rare, but when it comes to tariffs, the debate has spilled into the open.“There are definitely different views in the administration, and they’re surfacing,” said Wendy Cutler, the vice president at the Asia Society Policy Institute and a former U.S. trade negotiator. “There are those who think that the tariffs didn’t work and are contributing to inflation. Then you have the trade negotiator side that says: ‘Why would we give them up now? They’re good leverage.’”The discussion over how and when to adjust these tariffs mirrors a bigger debate over whether globalized trade has done more to help or harm Americans, and how the Democratic Party should approach trade.Katherine Tai, the United States trade representative; Tom Vilsack, the agriculture secretary; Jake Sullivan, the national security adviser; and others have argued against dropping the tariffs. Ms. Yellen, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo and other officials have pointed out the benefits to companies and consumers from adjusting them, people familiar with the discussions said.Ms. Yellen has long been a voice of skepticism regarding the tariffs and has grown more frustrated with the pace of progress on trade developments, people familiar with her thinking said. She made the case last week for removing some of the tariffs as a way to offset rising prices.“Some relief could come from cutting some of them,” Ms. Yellen said, explaining that the tariffs were harming consumers and businesses. “There are a variety of opinions, and we really haven’t sorted out yet or come to agreement on where to be on tariffs.”Daleep Singh, a deputy national security adviser, was more blunt in an April 21 webinar. “We inherited these tariffs,” he said, “and while they may have created negotiating leverage, they serve no strategic purpose.”For products that do not strengthen critical supply chains or support national security, “there’s not much of a case for those tariffs being in place,” Mr. Singh said. “Why do we have tariffs on bicycles or apparel or underwear?”Treasury Secretary Janet L. Yellen has grown more frustrated with the pace of progress on trade developments, according to people familiar with her thinking.Sarahbeth Maney/The New York TimesBut labor leaders, progressive Democrats and some industry representatives have made various arguments for maintaining tough tariffs, with several pointing to data showing that imports from China are not the main drivers of inflation.“For a Democratic president to get rid of tariffs imposed by a Republican and basically give a free handout to the Chinese Communist Party is not something that’s really politically wise in any form,” said Scott N. Paul, the president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, which represents steel companies and workers.Economists also believe the impact from removing the tariffs would be modest. Jason Furman, an economist at Harvard University and a former chairman of Mr. Obama’s Council of Economic Advisers, estimates that removing all the China tariffs would shave half a percentage point off the Consumer Price Index, which grew 8.3 percent in April from a year earlier.Still, Mr. Furman said, when it comes to lowering inflation “tariff reduction is the single biggest tool the administration has.”Progressive Democrats like Representative Tim Ryan, Democrat of Ohio, have argued for maintaining tough tariffs on China.Dustin Franz for The New York TimesThe Office of the United States Trade Representative started a statutory review of the tariffs this month and says its approach to analyzing them is on track. “We need to make sure that whatever we do right now, first of all, is effective and, second of all, doesn’t undermine the medium-term design and strategy that we know we need to pursue,” Ms. Tai said in an interview on May 2.Some Biden administration officials appear to favor an outcome that would lift certain tariffs while increasing other trade penalties on China, a process that would take at least several months. That could happen through a separate investigation under the so-called Section 301 process into China’s use of industrial subsidies. More

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    U.S. to Lift Tariffs on Ukrainian Steel

    WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced on Monday that it would lift tariffs on Ukrainian steel for one year, halting a measure that President Donald J. Trump placed on that country and many others in 2018.The move comes as the Biden administration looks for ways to assist Ukraine during the Russian invasion. Ukraine is a fairly minor supplier of U.S. steel, shipping about 218,000 metric tons in 2019, to rank 12th among America’s foreign suppliers. However, the sector is a significant source of economic growth and employment for Ukraine, and steel mills have continued to provide paychecks, food and shelter for their workers through the war.When Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal of Ukraine visited Washington last month, he told administration officials that some Ukrainian steel mills were starting to produce again after initially shutting down because of the invasion. He asked the Biden administration to suspend the tariffs, a senior Commerce Department official, who was not authorized to speak publicly before the official announcement, said on Monday.The United States imposed a 25 percent tariff on foreign steel and a 10 percent tariff on foreign aluminum three years ago on national security grounds, arguing that a flood of cheap metal had decimated American manufacturing and posed a threat to its military and industrial capacity.Ukraine is a significant steel producer, ranking 13th globally. Most of the country’s factories and other economic activity have been frozen as workers are called off to fight and shipments of parts and raw materials are disrupted during the war. Many major Ukrainian steel mills halted their operations in late February because of major disruptions to logistics routes required to ship metal out of the country, analysts at S&P Global said.The senior Commerce Department official said that Ukrainian steel plants had been cut off from some of their more traditional markets in the Middle East and Africa, as the war closed shipping lanes through the Black Sea. In order to continue to support its plants, the Ukrainian government is now aiming to move steel by rail to Romania, and then on to markets in Europe, Britain and the United States, the official said.The Commerce Department has noted that the steel industry is uniquely important to Ukraine’s economic strength, employing one in 13 people there.A steel mill in Mariupol under siege by Russian forces sheltered thousands of Ukrainian soldiers and civilians for weeks. Russian and Ukrainian officials said on Saturday that all the women, children and elderly people who had been trapped for weeks in the plant were evacuated.“For steel mills to continue as an economic lifeline for the people of Ukraine, they must be able to export their steel,” Gina M. Raimondo, the commerce secretary, said in the announcement. “Today’s announcement is a signal to the Ukrainian people that we are committed to helping them thrive in the face of Putin’s aggression, and that their work will create a stronger Ukraine, both today and in the future.”The move is one of a variety of economic measures aimed at penalizing Russia and assisting Ukraine. Those include a broad swath of sanctions on Russian entities, export controls that have limited Russian imports and $3.8 billion in arms and equipment for the Ukrainian government, in addition to other direct financial assistance.Senators called on the administration last month to lift the steel tariffs, saying it would help the industry bounce back immediately after the war.“Lifting the U.S. tariff on steel from Ukraine is a small but meaningful way for the U.S. to signal support for Ukraine and to provide stability,” Senators Patrick J. Toomey, Republican of Pennsylvania, and Dianne Feinstein, Democrat of California, wrote in a letter.Many other major steel-producing countries have had their tariffs lifted or eased. During his presidency, Mr. Trump negotiated deals with South Korea, Mexico, Canada and other countries to replace the tariffs with quotas or so-called tariff rate quotas, which restrain the volume of a product coming into the United States but allow at least some of it to be imported at lower tariff rates.Russia-Ukraine War: Key DevelopmentsCard 1 of 3Putin’s Victory Day speech. More

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    The U.S. and Japan strike a deal to roll back Trump-era steel tariffs.

    WASHINGTON — The Biden administration reached a deal to partly lift tariffs that the Trump administration had imposed on Japanese steel, agreeing to scale back levies that had rankled both the Japanese government and American manufacturers that use imported metal.The agreement, which U.S. trade officials announced on Monday, will maintain some protections for American metal makers by transforming the current 25 percent tariff on Japanese steel into a so-called tariff-rate quota, an arrangement in which higher levels of imports are met with higher duties. Up to 1.25 million metric tons of Japanese steel will be allowed to come into the country duty-free each year, with volumes above that level subject to a 25 percent tariff.That level is the average of Japanese steel exports to the United States in 2018 and 2019, a Biden administration official said. The arrangement is set to take effect April 1.The deal will place restrictions on products that are finished in Japan using steel from other countries. To qualify for duty-free treatment, steel products must be entirely made in Japan, to ensure the agreement is not providing a back door to the United States for cheap metal from China and other countries.The official said the countries would continue to negotiate over Japan’s steps to reduce excess capacity in its steel sector, as well as to lower the carbon emissions generated by the steel industry, which was a focus of a United States steel agreement with the European Union in October. European steel has been able to enter the United States duty free since Jan. 1.Aluminum imports — which have also been subject to a 10 percent tariff since the metal levies went into effect — were not affected by the agreement.In a statement, Gina Raimondo, the commerce secretary, said the agreement would “strengthen America’s steel industry and ensure its work force stays competitive, while also providing more access to cheaper steel and addressing a major irritant between the United States and Japan, one of our most important allies.”Ms. Raimondo pointed to the agreements with Japan and Europe as a sign that the administration was trying to restore alliances that were strained during the Trump administration.“Today’s announcement builds on the deal we struck with the E.U. and will further help us rebuild relationships with our allies around the world as we work to fight against China’s unfair trade practices and create a more competitive global economy for America’s families, businesses and workers,” she said.The Trump administration imposed metal tariffs on dozens of countries in 2018, saying a glut of foreign steel and aluminum threatened to put U.S. manufacturers out of business and posed a national security threat. President Donald J. Trump did lift or scale back the tariffs on certain countries, including Mexico and Canada, in return for trade concessions, but many governments remained subject to the levies.Wendy Cutler, the vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute, said imposing national security-related tariffs on a close U.S. ally like Japan “never made sense, and was an unfortunate chapter in U.S. trade history.”“By putting the steel matter finally behind us, it opens the door for stepped-up cooperation on a range of pressing regional and global economic and trade issues,” she said.The trade barriers pleased many domestic metal makers and unions, which said they were necessary to preserve American industry and compete with a glut of cheap foreign metal from countries like China. But the tariffs have upset both foreign allies and many American companies that use imported steel and aluminum to make cars, washing machines, beer cans and other products, and that were forced to pay higher prices for their inputs.Kevin Dempsey, the chief executive of the American Iron and Steel Institute, an industry group, said the agreement with Japan would prevent another import surge that would undermine American industry and employment in the steel sector.“We appreciate the Biden administration’s continued recognition that the American steel industry is critical to our national and economic security and to efforts to build a more sustainable U.S. economy,” he said, adding that “proper implementation and enforcement” of the deal would be essential. More

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    President Biden extends solar tariffs, with major caveats.

    WASHINGTON — President Biden announced Friday that he would extend tariffs on imported solar products first imposed during the Trump administration but would reduce the scope of products affected by the levies, a decision aimed at balancing his goals for bolstering domestic manufacturing with speeding up the transition toward clean energy.The decision will impose a tariff of between 14 percent and 15 percent for the next four years on imported crystalline silicon solar products that are used to convert sunlight to energy. But the Biden administration also moved to double the amount of solar cells that can come into the country without facing tariffs, and it said it would begin talks with Canada and Mexico to allow them to export their products to the United States duty-free.The administration also said it would exempt a certain type of two-sided panel, called bifacial panels, from the levies to help ensure that solar deployment in the United States continues at the pace and scale needed to meet the president’s clean energy targets.The carve-outs will maintain some protection for domestic industry while also allowing solar energy projects to continue accessing some cheaper foreign solar products. But they also angered some domestic manufacturers and labor leaders, who argued that the administration should be doing more to shield American manufacturers from cheap Chinese products.Mark Widmar, the chief executive of First Solar, a solar panel manufacturer in the United States that had fought for tougher restrictions on imported products, said he was “deeply disappointed” in the decision and that it would allow China “to outflank American efforts to grow self-reliant solar supply chains.”“Today’s decision places at risk billions of dollars in existing investment, thousands of jobs, our country’s energy security and a climate-critical transition to net-zero emissions,” he added.Companies that install solar power projects using foreign panels praised the decision to scale back the tariffs.“Every dollar spent on tariffs means less dollars put toward creating jobs and opportunity in communities,” said George Hershman, the chief executive of SOLV Energy, the nation’s largest utility-scale solar installer. “The bifacial exclusion will help us greenlight projects and deploy more solar capacity across the country.”The solar industry worked for the last three years to preserve the exclusion of bifacial panels from the tariff, though it had hoped for broader action that would remove the tariffs entirely.Abigail Ross Hopper, chief executive of the Solar Energy Industries Association, said her group was disappointed with the decision to extend the tariffs but called the administration’s move a “balanced solution.”Mr. Biden has pledged to cut U.S. emissions at least 52 percent below 2005 levels by the end of this decade, and the administration is counting on solar to play a significant role in reducing emissions from electricity production. A recent Energy Department report found that solar energy could provide up to 40 percent of the nation’s electricity by 2035, compared with its current 4 percent.But much of the world’s supply of solar panels comes from China — creating a quandary for an administration that has described China as America’s foremost geopolitical and economic competitor.China has pumped vast amounts of government funding into renewable energy industries. It now dominates all stages of the solar supply chain, producing between 60 and 80 percent of the world’s polysilicon, wafers, crystalline silicon cells and solar modules, according to Wood Mackenzie, a research and consulting firm.American solar manufacturers have struggled to compete with low-cost products from China, even as U.S. demand for solar power has surged. The production capacity of American solar manufacturers stood at just four gigawatts last year, enough to satisfy just one-fifth of the country’s installations.Xiaojing Sun, the head of global solar research at Wood Mackenzie, said some new manufacturing plants had opened since the tariffs were imposed, like Jinko Solar’s facility in Florida, LG Electronics’ in Alabama and Hanwha Q CELLS USA’s in Georgia. And some existing companies, like First Solar, had expanded operations.At the same time, the U.S. solar market grew to about 20 gigawatts last year from 11 gigawatts four years before, meaning even as domestic manufacturers contributed more supply they did not gain more market share with the tariffs in place, she said.“It wasn’t enough to turn the tide,” Ms. Sun said. “The amount of market that is met by domestic manufacturing is pretty small.”The issue of how to treat imported solar products has divided some of the administration’s traditional allies. Labor unions, along with those who prioritize efforts to build a domestic solar industry and reduce trade with China, have been pitted against solar energy developers and others who see combating climate change as among the administration’s most important tasks.Those divisions have been mirrored inside the Biden administration, where climate and trade officials have at times clashed over how tightly to curb Chinese imports.China’s solar industry has also been tarred by its reliance on components sourced from Xinjiang, where the Chinese government carries out mass detentions of minority groups.An administration ban imposed last year on solar products made with material from one Chinese company accused of using forced labor in Xinjiang brought tens of billions of dollars of U.S. solar installations to a halt, industry groups said. In June, a new law that strengthens the prohibitions on importing goods from Xinjiang will cast that net even wider.In a joint statement with other Ohio lawmakers, the state’s senators, Sherrod Brown, a Democrat, and Rob Portman, a Republican, called Mr. Biden’s tariff announcement “a disappointing, misguided decision.”“The administration is missing the best opportunity in a generation to ensure the United States leads the way in manufacturing solar supply chain components,” the senators said.The solar tariff announcement came as the House of Representatives voted Friday morning to approve a bill that would devote nearly $300 billion toward scientific research, including $600 million in grants and loans to solar manufacturing. The Biden administration has also proposed substantial tax credits and other measures to spur the solar industry as part of its Build Back Better Act, but that legislation remains mired in Congress.The solar tariffs were first imposed in February 2018, with President Donald J. Trump following a recommendation of the International Trade Commission, an independent panel that reviews trade cases. The tariffs started at 30 percent and were set to decline by 5 percentage points each year over the course of four years.Those tariffs would have expired this month. But several manufacturers, including Auxin Solar, Suniva, Hanwha, LG and Mission Solar Energy, petitioned to extend the levies, arguing they were still needed.In its announcement on Friday, the Biden administration doubled the amount of cells that could be imported into the United States duty-free to five gigawatts, saying the change would give domestic manufacturers that use the cells to make solar panels the supplies they need to be competitive.But some critics said that change, along with the exclusion for bifacial panels, would gut protections for the domestic industry. In a note to clients on Tuesday, Julien Dumoulin-Smith, a research analyst at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, said that tariffs with those carve-outs “would be largely toothless.”A senior administration official pushed back on those claims on Friday, arguing that the decision would help create jobs, reduce American dependence on foreign suppliers and meet ambitious clean energy goals.The White House had been consulting with all sectors of the solar industry, and they all agreed that the tariffs on their own would not bring back solar cell production or increase module production to a point where it could supply U.S. needs, the Biden official said.Ana Swanson reported from Washington, and Ivan Penn from Los Angeles. More

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    European Steel Plan Shows Biden’s Bid to Merge Climate and Trade Policy

    A potential agreement on steel trade provides the clearest look yet at how the Biden administration plans to implement a trade policy that is both protectionist and progressiveWASHINGTON — President Biden has promised to use trade policy as a tool to mitigate climate change. This weekend, the administration provided its first look at how it plans to mesh those policy goals, saying the United States and the European Union would try to curb carbon emissions as part of a trade deal covering steel and aluminum.The arrangement, which American and European leaders aim to introduce by 2024, would use tariffs or other tools to encourage the production and trade of metals made with fewer carbon emissions in places including the United States and European Union, and block dirtier steel and aluminum produced in countries including China.If finalized, it would be the first time a U.S. trade agreement includes specific targets on carbon emissions, said Ben Beachy, the director of the Sierra Club’s Living Economy program.“No U.S. trade deal to date has even mentioned climate change, much less included binding climate standards,” said Mr. Beachy.The announcement was short on details, and negotiations with European leaders are likely to face multiple roadblocks. But it provided an outline for how the Biden administration hopes to knit together its concerns about trade and climate and work with allies to take on a recalcitrant China, at a time when progress on multicountry trade negotiations at the World Trade Organization has stalled.“The U.S. leads the world in our clean steel technology,” Gina Raimondo, the secretary of commerce, said in an interview on Monday. She said the United States would work with allies “to preference cleaner steel, which will create an incentive to make more investments in technology,” resulting in fewer carbon emissions and more jobs.In the same interview, Katherine Tai, the United States Trade Representative, said the potential agreement would restrict market access for countries that don’t meet certain carbon standards, or that engage in nonmarket practices and contribute to global overcapacity in the steel sector — accusations that are often levied at China.The effort would seek to build “a global arrangement that promotes not just fair trade in steel but also pro-climate and responsible trade in steel,” Ms. Tai said.Kevin Dempsey, the president of the American Iron and Steel Institute, said at an industry forum in Washington on Tuesday that the arrangement would be “positive for the U.S. industry,” which has the lowest carbon intensity per ton of steel of the major steel-producing countries.China accounts for nearly 60 percent of global steel production. Its use of a common steel-production method causes more than twice as much climate pollution as does the same technology in the United States, according to estimates by Global Efficiency Intelligence.In its announcement on Saturday, the Biden administration also said it had reached a deal to ease the tariffs that former President Donald J. Trump had imposed on European metals while the governments work toward the carbon accord.The United States would replace the 25 percent tariff on European steel and a 10 percent tariff on European aluminum with a so-called tariff-rate quota. In return, the European Union would drop the retaliatory tariffs it imposed on other American products, like bourbon and motorcycles.Under the new terms, 3.3 million metric tons of European steel would be allowed to enter the United States duty-free each year, with any steel above that volume subject to a 25 percent tariff.European producers would be allowed to ship 18,000 metric tons of unwrought aluminum, which often comes in the form of ingots, and 366,000 metric tons of wrought or semifinished aluminum into the United States each year, while volumes above that would be charged a 10 percent tariff, the commerce department said.To qualify for zero tariffs, the steel must be entirely made in the European Union — a provision designed to keep cheaper steel from countries including China and Russia from finding a backdoor into the United States via Europe.Supporters of free trade have criticized the Biden administration for relying on the same protectionist trade measures used by the Trump administration, which deployed both tariffs and quotas to protect domestic metal makers.Jake Colvin, the president of the National Foreign Trade Council, said the announcement would ratchet down trade tensions between the United States and Europe. But he called the trade barriers “an unwelcome form of managed trade” that would add costs and undermine American competitiveness.Ms. Tai said the administration had made a deliberate choice not to heed calls “for the president to just undo everything that the Trump administration had done on trade.”Mr. Biden’s plan, she said, “is that we formulate a worker-centered trade policy. And that means not actually going back to the way things were in 2015 and 2016, challenging us to do trade in a different way from how we’ve done it earlier, but also, critically, to challenge us to do trade in a way different from how the Trump administration did.”A factory in southern China that makes steel parts. The trade proposal would block dirtier steel and aluminum produced in countries including China.The New York TimesThe focus on carbon emissions differs from that of the Trump administration, which rejected any attempts to negotiate on carbon mitigation and withdrew the United States from the Paris Agreement on climate change.But negotiations with Europe will face challenges, among them developing a common methodology for measuring how much carbon is emitted as certain products are made. Still, the announcement suggests that the United States and Europe might be ready to work toward a collaborative approach on lowering carbon emissions, despite past differences on how the problem should be addressed.European leaders have long advocated an explicit price on the carbon dioxide that companies emit while making their products. In July, the European Union proposed a carbon border adjustment mechanism that would require companies to pay for carbon emissions produced outside Europe, to discourage manufacturers from evading Europe’s restrictions on pollution by moving abroad.An explicit tax on carbon has met with more resistance in the United States, where some politicians want to update regulatory requirements or put the onus on companies to invest in cleaner production technology.Todd Tucker, the director of governance studies at the Roosevelt Institute, said the latest announcement suggested that the European Union may be “a little bit more flexible” on how the United States and other partners would go about lowering emissions. Mr. Biden’s reconciliation bill, for example, contains a proposal for a “green bank” that could provide financing for firms to transition to cleaner technologies, he said.“If the U.S. ends up achieving decarbonization through more of an investments and industrial-policy approach, it seems like they’re OK with that,” Mr. Tucker said.Though the earliest negotiations over carbon emissions in the steel sector involve the European Union, the Biden administration says it wants to quickly extend the partnership to other countries.In twin announcements on Sunday, the Department of Commerce said it had begun close consultations with Japan and the United Kingdom “on bilateral and multilateral issues related to steel and aluminum,” with a focus on “the need for like-minded countries to take collective action.”Both Japan and the United Kingdom still face a 25 percent tariff on steel exports to the United States imposed by Mr. Trump.The talks suggest a template for how the Biden administration will try to engage allies to counter China’s growing economic heft and make progress on goals like climate and workers rights.The administration has rejected Mr. Trump’s “America First” approach to trade, saying the United States needs to work with like-minded countries. But they have also acknowledged that the inefficiency of negotiations at the World Trade Organization, and distanced themselves from broader, multicountry trade deals, like the Trans-Pacific Partnership.The announcements suggest that the Biden administration may not see comprehensive trade deals as the most effective way to accomplish many of its goals, but rather, industry-specific agreements among a limited number of democratic, free-market countries. That approach is similar to the cooperation the United States announced with the European Union for the civil aircraft industry in June.Ms. Raimondo said the agreement to ease the tariffs on the European Union was a “very significant achievement” that would help to alleviate supply chain problems and lower prices for companies that use steel and aluminum to make other products.“It’s all kind of a table setter to a global arrangement, whereby we work with our allies all over the world over the next couple of years,” she said. More

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    Biden Rolls Back Trump's Metal Tariffs On European Union

    The deal, which comes as U.S. and E.U. allies meet in Rome, will keep some trade protections in place in a nod to metalworking unions that supported President Biden.WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced on Saturday that it had reached a deal to roll back tariffs on European steel and aluminum, an agreement that officials said would lower costs on goods like cars and washing machines, reduce carbon emissions, and help get supply chains moving again.The deal, which comes as President Biden and other world leaders meet at the Group of 20 summit in Rome, is aimed at easing trans-Atlantic trade tensions that had worsened under former President Donald J. Trump, whose administration initially imposed the tariffs. Mr. Biden has made clear he wants to repair relations with the European Union, but the agreement also appears carefully devised to avoid alienating U.S. labor unions and manufacturers that have supported Mr. Biden.It leaves some protections in place for the American steel and aluminum industry, by transforming the current 25 percent tariff on European steel and 10 percent tariff on aluminum into a so-called tariff rate quota, an arrangement in which higher levels of imports are met with higher duties.The agreement will put an end to retaliatory tariffs that the European Union had imposed on American products including orange juice, bourbon and motorcycles. It will also avert additional tariffs on American products that were set to go into effect on Dec. 1.“We fully expect this agreement will provide relief in the supply chain and drive down cost increases as we lift the 25 percent tariffs and increase volume,” Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo said.Ms. Raimondo, in a briefing with reporters, said the deal had allowed the United States and European Union to establish a framework to take carbon intensity into account when producing steel and aluminum, which could allow for them to manufacture “cleaner” products than the ones produced in China.A steel mill in Farrell, Pa. A new accord is said to allow the E.U. to ship 3.3 million metric tons of steel into the U.S. duty-free and impose a 25 percent tariff after that.Aaron Josefczyk/Reuters“China’s lack of environmental standards is part of what drives down their costs, but it’s also a major contributor to climate change,” Ms. Raimondo said.The tariffs were imposed on dozens of countries, including those in the European Union, after the Trump administration determined that foreign metals posed a national security threat. Mr. Biden vowed to work more closely with Europe, which he has described as a partner in efforts to combat climate change and compete against authoritarian economies like China. But he has been under pressure from American metal manufacturers and labor unions not to entirely remove the trade barriers, which have helped protect the domestic industry from a glut of cheap foreign metal.The deal marks the final step for the Biden administration in dismantling Mr. Trump’s Trans-Atlantic trade war. In June, U.S. and European officials announced an end to a 17-year dispute over aircraft subsidies given to Airbus and Boeing. In late September, the United States and Europe announced a new partnership for trade and technology, and earlier this month they came to an agreement on global minimum taxes.Under the new terms, the European Union will be allowed to ship 3.3 million metric tons of steel annually into the United States duty-free, while any volume above that would be subject to a 25 percent tariff, according to people familiar with the arrangement. Products that were granted exclusions from the tariffs this year would also temporarily be exempt.The agreement will also place restrictions on products that are finished in Europe but use steel from China, Russia, South Korea and other countries. To qualify for duty-free treatment, steel products must be entirely made in the European Union.Jake Sullivan, the president’s national security adviser, said that the deal removed “one of the biggest bilateral irritants in the U.S.-E.U. relationship.”Metal unions in the United States praised the deal, which they said would limit European exports to historically low levels. The United States imported 4.8 million metric tons of European steel in 2018, a level that fell to 3.9 million in 2019 and 2.5 million in 2020.In a statement, Thomas M. Conway, president of the United Steelworkers International, said the arrangement would “ensure U.S. domestic industries remain competitive and able to meet our security and infrastructure needs.”Mark Duffy, the chief executive of the American Primary Aluminum Association, said that the deal would “maintain the effectiveness” of Mr. Trump’s tariffs, “while allowing us to support continued investment in the U.S. primary aluminum industry and create more American aluminum jobs.”He said the arrangement would support the American aluminum industry by limiting duty-free imports to historically low levels.Other countries remain subject to U.S. tariffs or quotas, including Britain, Japan and South Korea. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce, which has opposed the metal tariffs, said the deal did not go far enough.Myron Brilliant, the executive vice president of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the agreement would offer “some relief for American manufacturers suffering from soaring steel prices and shortages, but further action is needed.” “The U.S. should drop the unfounded charge that metal imports from the U.K., Japan, Korea and other close allies represent a threat to our national security — and drop the tariffs and quotas as well,” he said.Katie Rogers More