A bipartisan pair of senators want to give President Joe Biden a new tool in economic competition with China, allowing him to make agreements outside the normal international trade framework to counter what they term “economic coercion” by US adversaries.
The two senators — Republican Todd Young of Indiana and Democrat Chris Coons of Delaware — say their bill will allow Biden to increase or reduce tariffs on some goods and speed up support to countries with smaller economies that appear to be victims of coercive trading practices. While the president would be required to consult with Congress on decisions, some could be expedited.
“Countries like China and Russia are increasingly abusing their economic power to bully smaller countries and punish sovereign political decisions,” Coons said in a statement. “This economic coercion hurts these nations, threatens U.S. economic security, and undermines the democratic, rules-based international system that has underpinned decades of global growth.”
The bill, which was first introduced last Congress but has been tweaked with updates from the White House and other lawmakers, is informed by a recent incident in which China restricted imports of Taiwanese pineapples, one of the island’s main agricultural products.
The Chinese government cited the risk of an invasive species being transported along with the fruit but the US and other allies of the Taiwanese government saw it as an attempt to put pressure on the island, which Beijing considers part of its territory. Prior to the ban, more than 90% of Taiwan’s exported pineapples went to China.
In a show of solidarity, Japan stepped up its imports of the fruit and the US and Canadian representatives on the island promoted the product by sharing social media with hashtags such as #FreedomPineapple and #pineapplesolidarity.
“Some foreign adversaries think they can drive a wedge between our allies and partners by using economic intimidation or by harming economies through opaque, informal actions,” Young said the joint statement with Coons. “By supporting our partners under threat, we protect America’s own national security interests.”
Young, who recently returned from a trip to both Taiwan and Japan, called the episode something which his proposed legislation can counter.
The senators “want to empower our president to do a similar sort of thing” to what Japan did, Young said.
The bill would allow “market access, foreign aid, or some other form of assistance to countries needing expeditious and narrowly tailored assistance in response to economic coercion,” he said.