TRAVERSE CITY, Mich.—Rising political tensions with China mean that tariffs originally imposed by the Trump administration will likely stick around for the foreseeable future.
"I don't see the Biden administration removing tariffs on Chinese goods anytime soon," Ann Wilson, senior vice president of the Motor & Equipment Manufacturers Association, said in a panel discussion on global trade at the Management Briefing Seminars.
That's not necessarily a bad thing, according to some of the panelists.
Michael Dunne, CEO of ZoZo Go, a consultancy specializing in Asian car markets, said those tariffs could lead to more investment in the U.S., especially in electric vehicle batteries—a market long dominated by China.
"Right now, if we say no tariffs, China would just roll across the world with its battery exports and control a key strategic industry in the future," he said. "There needs to be some mechanisms to incentivize manufacturing right here in America."
Dunne noted that Cold War-like tensions between the two countries have led to a "once-in-50-years reordering of global supply chains" that includes a diversification away from China. Within China, he said, U.S. suppliers are vulnerable to increasing regulatory crackdowns.
Brian Markell, executive director of the AFL-CIO Industrial Union Council, agreed that tariffs could be used to the U.S. industry's benefit.
"Our tariffs are a lot lower than everybody else's, and that makes a rough go in some cases," he said. "We believe tariffs are a legitimate trade tool, and they should be used for us to achieve our trade goals."
While MEMA largely has advocated for free-trade policies, Wilson agreed that targeted tariffs can help boost production of goods here.
"The problem is when tariffs are used as a unilateral tool," she said. "For instance, tariffs on steel and aluminum from some of our biggest trading partners in the EU—I'm not sure what that's done besides increase the costs of many of our members' ability to get steel and aluminum."