The competition is good except when it comes from abroad, apparently.

That’s the message from White House Biden, who promises to tackle inflation by promoting “competition,” but fails to apply that pledge to his own trade policy. President Biden has maintained most of Donald Trump’s barriers to foreign competition – and those that Biden has undone have largely been replaced by different trade restrictions.

Time and again, the Biden administration has said it hears consumer frustration with inflation and is working to bring prices down, including through a “whole-of-government effort to promote competition in the economy.” American economy”.

“Capitalism without competition is not capitalism; it is exploitation,” Biden said on Friday. “So I will continue to do everything in my power to work with Congress to make our capitalist system work better, to provide more competition and lower prices for American consumers.”

As evidence of their inflation-fighting efforts, administration officials touted investigations into allegedly anti-competitive behavior in meat processing and petroleum, among other industries. These antitrust interventions seem unlikely to reduce inflation much, especially in the short term. This is because, among other things, traditional efforts to break trust can take years to work their way through the legal system – and, even then, often fail.

Removing trade barriers, on the other hand, can almost immediately increase competition and reduce prices. That’s because tariffs, quotas and the like explicitly protect American companies from competition with foreign rivals, including lower-cost ones. This raises prices for downstream buyers.

When he ran for office, Biden seemed to recognize that. Like many Democrats, he criticized Trump’s trade wars as wrong and costly for American consumers.

Biden’s campaign website argued that Trump’s trade wars with allies and foes have cost hundreds of thousands of US jobs. In a 2019 speech, Biden said, “President Trump may think he’s tough on China. All he delivered as a result is American farmers, manufacturers, and consumers who lose out and pay more.

Biden was then on solid ground regarding the price effects.

Several high-profile studies conducted during the Trump presidency found that the costs of his tariffs were almost entirely passed on to US customers. Some products Trump has designated for protectionism remain ridiculously expensive today: Modules used in U.S. solar projects, for example, are 55% more expensive than those used in Europe due to multiple layers of tariffs, according to the firm. Wood Mackenzie studies. Benchmark steel prices are 60% higher in the US than in Europe.

Yet more than a year into his presidency, Biden has done relatively little to relieve consumers of these trade restrictions.

Trump’s tariffs on $350 billion worth of Chinese goods, for example, remain in place. The same goes for its global rates on washing machines. Biden rolled back some of Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum — but he replaced those tariffs with different trade restrictions, which also keep competition low and prices artificially high.

The last such exchange involved an agreement with Japan. Under the deal, some Japanese steel will be allowed to enter the United States duty-free, but the amount allowed is well below historical averages.

“At a time of absurdly high demand, this won’t be the price relief that American consumers really need,” said Scott Lincicome of the Cato Institute.

Days earlier, Biden had announced a four-year extension to Trump’s tariffs on solar imports. Thanks to some modifications, they are no longer as restrictive as before.

But why did Biden extend those tariffs?

The objective does not seem to be the fight against climate change. Or maximizing American jobs, considering that downstream companies that use steel or inputs made from it employ about 80 times more workers than the steel industry. Many more jobs are threatened than protected by trade measures that artificially maintain US steel prices. Similarly, the U.S. solar industry said it lost thousands of jobs as tariffs raised input costs.

As is often the case with American trade policy, the end result is to reduce competition for a handful of politically connected American companies – whatever the cost to pinched American consumers.

Katherine Reminder is a opinion columnist for the Washington Post. His email address is [email protected]