Facing intense pressure to bring down inflation any way they can, members of US President Joe Biden’s administration are reviewing whether to drop some of the billions in tariffs on China imposed by their predecessors. They should — not just because of the cost to Americans of leaving them in place, but because of the impact on ordinary Chinese.
The international system of free trade relies on a crucial principle: reciprocity. This logic shapes economic interactions between nations and it works both ways. While cooperation can spur cooperation, retaliation can just as easily prompt tit-for-tat trade wars. Tensions with China emerged in part because US businesses felt they were not getting equal access to Chinese markets. The destructive spiral intensified as China responded to each round of US tariffs with its own taxes on imports from the United States.