Brian Pomper and Clete Willems Quoted in POLITICO on Biden’s Trade Priorities

POLITICO has quoted Akin Gump public law and policy practice co-head Brian Pomper and fellow partner Clete Willems in the article “Trump’s final trade battles create an early test for Biden.” The article reports on moves by the Trump administration during its final weeks in office that could threaten to undermine President-elect Joe Biden’s efforts to rebuild global alliances and rein in China’s rise.

The article says that the U.S. Trade Representative recently announced new tariffs on European alcohol, which is on top of $1.3 billion in duties on French consumer goods that, for now, have been delayed. There may also be new tariffs on Vietnam before President Trump leaves office, which would be in addition to the $350 billion worth of duties imposed on China, the article notes.

POLITICO reports that Biden and his team have repeatedly said any new trade talks will not start until he secures more domestic economic stimulus. Pomper, a former trade staffer for Democrats on the Senate Finance Committee, said not moving fast on those tariffs is “is just smart politics. Any move on China that isn’t an escalation will be attacked by Republicans as being weak on China.”

“But the truth of the matter,” Pomper added, “is there are going to be some trade issues they are going to have to address either because of the calendar or because trading partners are going to insist that we respond.”

Looking to Europe, Willems, a former Trump trade advisor, observed that the relationship with the United States “isn’t as good as it could be” as Biden prepares to take office, but that many of the disputes are “long-standing issues where we haven’t seen eye to eye.”

“Those things are going to be there immediately for Biden to address,” Willems added. “I spend a lot of time talking with Europeans and they all say we’ll be able to come to an agreement on climate change and Airbus, but when I bring up [digital service taxes] they say that’s going to be harder.”

Biden’s “Buy American” program, which would tighten rules on federal government purchasing, may help some U.S. producers, the article says, but the European Union is opposed to it, as it would block their companies from securing federal contracts.

“The Buy American stuff is really what contributed to the demise” of the abandoned Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership with Europe, said Willems. “That’s like the first thing out of Europeans’ mouths to complain about the U.S.”

But Willems is optimistic about Biden’s pick of Katherine Tai as U.S. Trade Representative. He said has “significant substantive knowledge of all these trade issues and the state of play. She has tons of credibility across the Democratic party and across the U.S. political spectrum and with Republicans, so I think she will bring to the table the ability to come up with unusual solutions that can bridge factions.”