‘Will work with democracies on trade to counter China’

Joe Biden’s economic and trade policies, outlined by him for the first time since he became U.S. President-elect, appeared to blend some themes from President Donald Trump’s ‘America First’ policy with some traditional pre-Trump American multilateralism.

Mr. Biden, speaking with reporters on Monday, said America would work with other democracies on international trade to ensure China does not set the rules of the game.

However, he also said government contracts would not go to companies making their products abroad.

Responding to a question on whether America would join the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), an Asia-Pacific trade deal signed last week by 15 countries, including China, Mr. Biden said he had told several world leaders that he could not get into detail until he becomes President but signalled a multilateral approach to trade to counter China.

Set the rules

“I’ve talked with a number of world leaders and told them under the law I’m not able to begin to discuss with them, there’s only one President at a time,” Mr. Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, following a discussion he and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris had held with union and business leaders.

“But here’s what I can say. We make up 25% of the world’s trading capacity, of the economy of the world. We need to be aligned with the other democracies — another 25% or more so we can set the rules of the road instead of having China and others dictate outcomes because they are the only game in town,” he said.

Mr. Biden said he had told some world leaders that three things would happen under his administration’s trade policy. “One, we’re going to invest in American workers and make them more competitive. Number two, we’re going to make sure that labour is at the table and environmentalists are at the table in any trade deals we make and I’m not looking for punitive trade... the idea that we are poking our finger in the eyes of our friends and embracing autocrats makes no sense to me.”

He said he had a “pretty thorough plan” that he would be prepared to announce on January 21.

Earlier in his remarks, Mr. Biden had specified that no government contracts would be awarded to companies that do not make their products domestically.

“From autos to stockpiles... we’re going to buy American. No government contract will be given to companies that don’t make their products here in America.”

Mr. Biden also warned of severe consequences due to the coronavirus pandemic if President Trump — who is yet to concede the election and provide Mr. Biden with official transition support — continues to stonewall the transition process.

‘Lives at risk’

“More people may die if we don’t coordinate,” he said. Waiting till January 20 would delay things by 1-1.5 months,” he said. More than 247,000 people have died of the virus and some 11.3 million have been infected in the country.

Mr. Biden said getting a vaccine and vaccination [ i.e., mass administration of the vaccine] were two different things and called for access to the Trump administration’s vaccine distribution plan.

He said the county was heading into a “very dark winter” and urged Congress to pass a COVID-19 relief package along the lines of what the House of Representatives had passed earlier this year.