Former U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer, a top trade adviser during the Trump administration, has called for increased tariffs on all Chinese imports to limit economic ties with Beijing, according to his book “No Trade Is Free.”
Lighthizer argues that implementing tariffs gradually over time would minimize disruptions and allow businesses to adjust their practices accordingly. He believes that tariffs are necessary to rebalance the economic relationship with China, which he considers to be the “largest geopolitical threat the United States has faced, perhaps since the American revolution.”
In his book, Lighthizer outlines an eight-point plan to address the risks associated with dealing with China. Some of the key proposals include repealing permanent normal trade relations with China, strengthening export controls for strategic goods, and imposing additional restrictions on Chinese businesses to prevent their access to the U.S. market. He also advocates for a comprehensive reform of the World Trade Organization (WTO), suggesting a reset of the global tariff system and the introduction of sunset clauses into WTO agreements.
Lighthizer expresses positive views on President Joe Biden’s China policy, stating that Biden has essentially adopted the Trump administration’s trade policy. He applauds the passage of the U.S. CHIPS and Science Act, which provides increased subsidies for domestic semiconductor manufacturing.
However, Lighthizer criticizes current USTR Katherine Tai for pausing tariffs against the European Union following a tariff war that affected $18 billion worth of transatlantic commerce.
Regarding his own trade initiatives, Lighthizer admits to some mistakes during his term, particularly the sequencing of the tariff war with China after the imposition of national security tariffs on steel and aluminum by the Chinese. He suggests that he would have preferred the Chinese tariffs to precede the steel and aluminum tariffs, which would have allowed for greater negotiation with Europe on voluntary quotas.
Lighthizer concludes by emphasizing that the Phase I trade agreement with China, despite the Chinese not meeting their purchasing agreements, made the U.S. less dependent on its “most dangerous global adversary.” He also states that the trade wars initiated during the Trump administration did not have a significant inflationary effect.