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Biden tells Pittsburgh steelworkers he wants to hike tariffs on Chinese steel

President Biden speaks at the United Steelworkers headquarters in Pittsburgh on April 17.
Andrew Caballero-Reynolds
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden speaks at the United Steelworkers headquarters in Pittsburgh on April 17.

Updated April 17, 2024 at 3:46 PM ET

President Biden wants to hike tariffs on imports of Chinese steel and aluminum, a case he made in a speech on Wednesday at the headquarters of the United Steelworkers union in Pittsburgh.

"Folks, you've had my back, and I promise I have your back," Biden told cheering union members, listing a series of measures he has taken to support unions, the steel sector, and the battleground state of Pennsylvania.

It's the latest in a series of steps Biden has taken to try to shore up his support in a state that could make or break his reelection bid. Former President Donald Trump had made support for the steel industry a central part of his 2016 and 2020 runs for office. Trump has said he wants to increase tariffs on a range of imports if he wins this November.

Since taking office in 2020, Biden has largely kept in place the signature tariff and trade policies of his predecessor, while also creating massive government programs to spur infrastructure projects, the semiconductor manufacturing sector and clean energy projects. Those programs have spurred demand for steel.

"Everything we build, we build with American product and with American workers — period," Biden said.

Chinese steel imports account for less than 1% of U.S. demand, officials told reporters. But Chinese subsidies and programs mean its steel prices are 40% lower than U.S. prices, and the Biden administration said it wants to head off any surge of exports.

"For too long, the Chinese government has poured state money into Chinese steel companies," Biden told union members, saying that had led to cheap exports. "They're not competing — they're cheating," he said.

Biden says his tariff plan is targeted

Biden is asking U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai — who has been reviewing tariffs on Chinese goods since Biden took office — to triple tariffs for steel and aluminum under what's known as Section 301. Currently, those tariffs average 7.5%.

Steel and aluminum imports from China are also subject to another type of tariff, known as Section 232. If the USTR follows through on Biden's request, the cumulative impact would mean Chinese steel faces tariffs of 50%, and Chinese aluminum tariffs of 35%.

Biden, who is under pressure because of voter concerns about the high cost of living, said his tariffs would be "targeted" and contrast them with Trump's statements that he would put tariffs on imported goods from all countries. Broad tariffs would raise costs and hurt U.S. consumers, Biden said.

Biden also said he sent a team of officials to speak with Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador to talk about preventing Chinese steel from making its way into the United States under preferential rates given to Mexico.

The USW recently endorsed Biden after he took the unusual step of speaking out against a takeover deal by Japanese company Nippon Steel for U.S. Steel, which is based in Pittsburgh.

"It should remain a totally American company," Biden said in his remarks. "American owned, American operated, by American union steelworkers — the best in the world — and that's going to happen, I promise you," he said.

Copyright 2024 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Asma Khalid is a White House correspondent for NPR. She also co-hosts The NPR Politics Podcast.