Who’s afraid of Biden? Certainly not China.

April 20, 2021

At least that what the trade data for February, Biden’s first full month as president, suggests.

In January of 2020, China signed a new trade deal with the U.S. – the “Phase 1” deal – committing to specific and significant increases in its imports of American goods in exchange for the U.S. delaying its application of 25% tariffs to the remaining half of Chinese goods. (The U.S. had already levied a 25% tariff on half of all Chinese imports.)

In 2020, China fell woefully short of its commitment – 31% less than the required imports of American manufactured products and 27% below its commitment for agricultural products. In February of this year, China not only failed to meet its commitments under the Phase 1 deal, it didn’t even meet the 2017 baseline in a single category – not in manufactured goods, nor agricultural goods, nor energy products, nor total goods. Already lagging its commitments in January, Its imports collapsed in February, falling by 27%. So far, year-to-date for 2021, China is now 46% behind its commitments.

Why should China live up to its trade commitments? So far, Biden hasn’t acknowledged that the trade deal even exists, never mentioning it. But he’s talked of getting tough with China in general. This is a golden opportunity to show that he means business – that he’s willing to stand up for American workers and farmers. How can any world leader take him seriously when he won’t even enforce a signed-and-sealed trade deal that has clear commitments and clear consequences for failure to meet them?

Recently, Biden called the level of gun violence in the U.S. a “national embarrassment.” You know what’s really a national embarrassment? A president who doesn’t have the courage to stand up for American workers and enforce commitments that other nations have made! (And make no mistake, Biden’s not the first such president.) To use a couple of Biden’s own favorite expressions, “C’mon, man! Do something, for God’s sake!”


Just Use Tariffs

April 16, 2021

https://www.fidelity.com/news/article/top-news/202104130705RTRSNEWSCOMBINED_KBN2C01AL-OUSBS_1

The above-linked article is an interesting case study of the challenges involved in bringing manufacturing back to the U.S. The product in question is a semiconductor – a “chip” – that is in such short supply that it has forced the shutdown of some auto production in the U.S. The Biden administration is looking at ways to break our dependence on imported semiconductors.

Oddly, the article begins with what seems to be an American manufacturer – On Semiconductor – supplying chips to to Hyundai in South Korea, perhaps because the Reuters author, Hyunjoo Jin, is herself Korean. You’d think that Reuters could find some American to write about the actual subject of the article – the challenges Biden faces in bringing chip manufacturing back to the states – but apparently they couldn’t. Maybe we first need to begin by bringing news reporting back to the U.S.? But I digress.

Never mind all that. The point of the article is the complex supply chain engaged in delivering a semiconductor chip to an auto manufacturer that could just as easily be General Motors in Detroit as Hyundai in South Korea. The author chronicles the myriad of steps that begins in Italy and makes its way through Taiwan, Singapore and China, just to name a few. So it’s not just a matter of building a chip factory here. It would require a daisy-chain of factories to turn silicon wafers into the actual semiconductor chips. So the Biden administration is faced with subsidizing a whole array of industries to entice them to move manufacturing to the U.S. It’s enough to make your head spin. The article concludes with “Simply throwing money at this does not solve the problem. It is a more complex problem.”

Moving that supply chain back to the U.S. is certainly a very complex problem. Negotiating subsidies with a dozen or more companies to entice them to make such a move would be difficult enough, not to mention expensive for American taxpayers, if that’s the approach that the government is considering. But there’s another much simpler solution – one so simple that it would require little more than the stroke of Biden’s pen. All he has to do is sign an executive order to levy tariffs on all manufactured products from the countries responsible for our twenty largest trade deficits. Each of the countries mentioned in this article as being involved in this supply chain – China, Taiwan, Singapore (a small city-state located in Malaysia) and Italy – are on that list, responsible for our largest, ninth largest, tenth largest and eleventh largest trade deficits respectively.

Here’s what would happen. Eager to mitigate the tariff, GM (for example) would soon move the final step in that process, the manufacturing of the chip, to a new plant in the U.S., perhaps as a subsidiary. Other potential suppliers like Japan, Vietnam, Mexico or others wouldn’t be viable options since they too are on the tariff list.

Next, that new GM chip-making subsidiary, eager to avoid tariffs on its supplies from Taiwan, would soon implement plans to develop a supplier in the U.S. Once established, that company in turn would soon make plans to source its silicon wafers from a new plant in the U.S. instead of from Italy.

The Biden administration, and whatever administrations succeed it, would barely have to lift a finger to make it happen and it wouldn’t cost American taxpayers one penny in higher taxes. Would it raise the price of semiconductors and, consequently, the price of new cars? Sure, but not much. A few bucks at the most. But, in terms of your purchasing power, they’d actually be cheaper when you factor in the upward pressure on wages – your wages – as the result of the demand for labor from this whole new U.S.-based semiconductor supply chain.

There are two elements of a tariff plan that would be critical to making it effective. First of all, by targeting those twenty nations that are responsible for our biggest trade deficits, the tariffs would eliminate from consideration all those grossly overpopulated nations with bloated labor forces who prey on the American economy. When Trump enacted tariffs on Chinese products, suppliers simply moved their operations to some other such country like Vietnam or Mexico. Those wouldn’t be viable options if moving there failed to eliminate the tariffs.

Secondly, the tariffs must be applied to all manufactured products from those countries. Why? Because otherwise, making our autos more expensive would put them at a disadvantage to autos imported from those countries, but not if those imported autos are subject to the same tariffs. For example, suppose that the tariff is 50%. That tariff might raise the price of an American car by 25%, let’s say. But you’d still opt for the American car if cars from Mexico, Japan, Korea, China, Italy, etc. are priced 50% higher. Now we’re not talking about just cars, but every single manufactured product you can imagine. The manufacturing of every one of them would come back to the U.S. since American-made products would then be the cheaper option for American buyers.

By the way, there’s another factor to consider here. If you’re a globalist, you may be turned off by a proposal that seems “protectionist.” But if you are a globalist, you’re probably also a person who’s concerned about the environment. In all of the talk about fossil fuels and CO2 emissions, you never, ever hear mention of the role of the global supply chain in “fueling” the problem. Did you know that the ships that transport manufactured goods back and forth across oceans and around the globe, goods that could just as easily be made locally, burn five billion barrels of oil per year? Think about that. If the Biden administration really wants to have an impact on climate change, implementing this tariff plan is probably the best place to start.


America’s Best Trade Partners

April 9, 2021

In my last couple of posts, we’ve seen that, once again, in 2020, America’s worst trade deficits, in both absolute and in per capita terms, were with very densely populated countries. There seemed to be a clear link between population density and balance of trade. If there is such a link, then we should find the opposite effect at the other end of the spectrum. We should find that our biggest trade surpluses are with more sparsely populated countries.

Here’s the data – America’s biggest trade surpluses in manufactured goods in 2020. At first glance, the population density effect doesn’t seem as clear on this list. Half of these nations are less densely populated than the U.S. Among the other half, some are actually far more densely populated. There’s something else going on here. Note that I’ve highlighted in yellow six nations that are net oil exporters. This is important because the U.S. is virtually assured of having a trade surplus in manufactured goods with oil exporters, even if the U.S. itself imports very little oil from those nations. Why? Because all oil, worldwide, is priced in U.S. dollars. When an oil exporter like Saudi Arabia, for example, sells a barrel of oil, they’re paid in U.S. dollars. The only other place where U.S. dollars can be spent is in the United States. So Saudi Arabia then has no choice but to use those dollars to purchase American goods.

There are three very densely populated nations on the list – The Netherlands, Belgium and Guatemala – that can’t be explained away as oil exporters. The first two – The Netherlands and Belgium – are tiny adjoining nations who take advantage of their geographic advantage as the only seaport on Europe’s Atlantic coast to be ports of entry for U.S. goods for much of Europe.

Strip away the above effects of the oil trade and the role of The Netherlands and Belgium as ports of entry, and the effect of population density becomes clear once again. The average population density of this list is 265 people / square mile – high, but less than half that of the nations that comprise our twenty worst deficits. Also, the average is grossly exaggerated by the presence of very tiny nations on the list. The population density of this group of twenty nations, as a composite, is only 46 people / square mile. Compare that to the composite density of the twenty nations with whom we have our worst trade deficits – 499 people / square mile, more than ten times greater.

How about economists’ claim that it’s low wages that drive trade imbalances? That theory is debunked by this list of our trade surpluses, just as it was by the list of our trade deficits. The average purchasing power parity (or “PPP”) on this list is actually about $5,000 lower the average of the nations with whom we have our worst deficits – not a big difference, but it’s actually the opposite of what the low wage theory would predict. Whether our trade partners are rich or poor has absolutely no impact on our balance of trade.

Finally, there’s data in this list that should be cause for alarm. Over the past ten years, our average surplus with these nations has shrunk by 34% while our average deficit with the twenty nations who make up our worst deficits has grown by 113%. Our manufacturing sector has been so canibalized by the densely populated nations of the world that there is increasingly little left for others to buy from us. The manufacturing sector of our economy is on the brink of collapse. This may be the greatest existential threat that our country faces. We got a taste of it during the Covid pandemic when we found ourselves at the mercy of foreign suppliers for virtually everything, including the simplest of things like face masks and gowns and more complex items like respirators. How long could we sustain ourselves in a crisis like a war when our foreign suppliers could simply cut off our supplies of virtually every manufactured product? Even as I write this our auto plants are idled by a shortage of imported semiconductors.

As we did on the deficit end of the spectrum, we’ll next look at a list of the twenty nations who, in per capita terms (man-for-man) are our best trading partners.


America’s Worst Trade Partners in 2020

April 2, 2021

In my previous post, we examined the list of America’s biggest trade deficits in 2020 and saw that most of them were with nations that are far more densely populated than the U.S. Clearly, population density was a factor, but the list included nations from around the world that were both big, like China and small, like Vitenam and Ireland just to name a couple.

Today, we’ll look at America’s balance of trade from a different perspective. Which nations, man-for-man, do the most damage to America’s economy by exporting to us more than they import from us – effectively feeding off of America’s economy at America’s expense? In other words, in per capita terms, which nations are our worst trade partners?

Here’s the list of America’s Worst Trade Partners in 2020. If you’re new to this blog, there are couple of big surprises on this list:

  1. You probably expected to see China at the head of this list. In fact, they don’t make the list at all. China ranked 22nd in 2020.
  2. At the top of the list you see Ireland and Switzerland, both of whom are more wealthy than the U.S. If low wages drive trade deficits, as we’re led to believe by economists, then how the heck did two of the world’s most wealthy nations make it to the top of this list?

To understand the reason for these surprises, take a look at the population density of these nations. Of these 20 nations, 17 are more densely populated than the U.S., which has a population density of 93 people per square mile. The average population density of these 20 nations is 526 people per square mile, more than five-and-a-half times that of the United States.

Low wages drive trade deficits? Hardly. Now look at the “purchasing power parity” (or PPP, analagous to wages) of the people of these nations. These are not poor nations. Only four of these twenty nations – Mexico, Vietnam, Thailand and Cambodia – have a PPP below $25,000, which is what the U.S. considers a poverty level for a family of four. Conversely, four of these twenty nations – Ireland, Switzerland, Denmark and Austria – are on a par with, or above, the PPP of the United States, which had a PPP of about $57,000 in 2020. The average for these 20 nations is $41,518.

Also, note that our trade deficit with 18 of these twenty nations is actually accelerating, even our deficits with the two nations at the top of the list who are wealthier than us.

In conclusion, there is a very powerful relationship between population density and the balance of trade evident in this list. Conversely, there appears to be no relationship whatsoever to wealth. This is important. Economists claim that trade deficits are driven by low wages, which is no cause for concern, as those wages will rise with time and restore a balance of trade. Thus, free trade works. But what we’ve seen in this post and the previous one is that this claim is simply not true. Free trade with densely populated nations doesn’t work because trade deficits are driven by population density and will never self-correct, no matter how high wages rise.

If trade imbalances are driven by disparities in population density between two trading partners, then we should see the opposite effect at the other end of the spectrum. We should see trade surpluses with more sparsely populated nations. We’ll take a look at that in my next post.

For an understanding of exactly how population density has such an effect on the balance of trade, read my book, Five Short Blasts, or read my series of posts begining with “Five Short Blasts” Theory Explained, Part 1.


America’s Worst Trade Deficits in 2020

March 29, 2021

Many people – perhaps most – have little understanding of the economic impact of the balance of foreign trade. The best way I can explain it is to use your own checking account as an example. If more money is drawn out of your account than the income that goes into it, then you’re steadily getting poorer and, if kept up long enough, you’ll eventually be broke. Until you reach that point, you create an illusion of prosperity by buying more than you can afford, but it’s just that – an illusion. Your day of reckoning – of financial ruin – is fast approaching.

The United States, just like every other nation, has a national account that’s very much like your checking account. Influxes of money, like income taxes, other federal taxes, tariffs on imports and the money collected from foreign entities for exported goods make us richer. Conversely, outflows are bad – like money spent by the federal government (for defense, domestic programs, etc.) and money spent on importing goods. Those make us poorer.

Therefore, our balance of trade with the rest of the world makes us either richer or poorer, depending on whether it’s a surplus or a deficit. And we’re not just talking about red numbers on some obscure balance sheet deep within the Department of Treasury. A trade deficit hits you directly in the wallet. For every $50,000 increase in the trade deficit, another American’s job is lost. If it wasn’t your job, you’re still hit in the wallet when an ever-growing number of unemployed compete for your job and put downward pressure on your wages. Do the math. Since our last balance of trade in 1975, the deficit in manufactured goods has grown by $1 trillion. Divided by $50,000, that’s a loss of 20 million high-paying manufacturing jobs. The downward pressure on wages has been enormous.

With all that said, let’s take a look at how we did in 2020. Each year I think to myself that America’s trade picture couldn’t get worse, but each year it does. The year 2020 was no different. If anything, our downward spiral accelerated. Our deficit in manufactured goods came in at $911 billion, blowing past the “old” record of $831 billion set only one year earler. Which countries were our worst trading partners? Here’s the list: America’s 20 worst trade deficits in 2020.

First of all, look at the total deficit for these twenty countries. It was $1.001 trillion. That’s more than America’s trade deficit with the entire world. In fact, our entire trade deficit is due to our deficit with only the top twelve nations on this list. Think about that. Take away those twelve nations, and the U.S. enjoys a balance of trade with the other 216 nations of the world.

Now look more closely at the list. It’s no surprise to see China at the top. They’ve been there for at least the last fifteen years. What is a surprise is that the deficit with China fell precipitously in 2020, from a record high of $416 billion in 2018. Why? Because of the 25% tariffs that the Trump administration imposed on half of all Chinese imports. It’s proof that tariffs work.

Unfortunately, those tariffs on Chinese imports also explain, at least in part, the explosive growth in the deficit with other nations, most notably Vietnam. Companies scrambled to move their manufacturing operations out of China to avoid the tariffs. Trump should have applied the tariffs to these other countries as well, leaving companies no alternative but to bring their manufacturing back to America.

Note that most of the nations on this list are actually quite wealthy, high-wage nations, on a par with the U.S. (Ireland and Switzerland are even wealthier.) This casts doubt on economists’ claim that low wages are the driving force behind trade deficits. So if low wages don’t drive trade imbalances, what does? The list includes nations both very large and very small, and nations from Europe, Asia and Central America. Is there something that these nations have in common – something that should be factored into our trade policy to return us to a balance of trade?

Indeed there is. Look at the population density of the nations on this list and note that all but one (Sweden) are more densely populated than the United States, which has a population density of 94 people per square mile. Most are far more densely populated. The average population density of the nations on this list is six times greater than the U.S. There clearly seems to be a relationship between population density and balance of trade. But why? What is it that makes people who live in more crowded conditions poor trade partners for the United States?

We need to look at this more deeply. We need to factor out other variables, like the sheer size of nations, which puts China at the top of this list with a deficit three times bigger than the next nation on the list – Mexico – which is only one tenth the size of China in terms of population. In my next post, we’ll sort the nations of the world by population density and see how their balance of trade with the U.S. stacks up.


United States the “World’s Breadbasket” No More

March 11, 2021

There was a time when the United States was known as the “World’s Breadbasket.” It’s “amber waves of grain” and “fruited plains” – noted in the first verse of “America the Beautiful” – supplied food wherever it was needed anywhere in the world. Even the Soviet Union turned to the U.S. for grain when its own harvests fell short of its needs.

Now, it seems that the “… pilgrim feet, whose stern, impassioned stress a thoroughfare for freedom beat across the wilderness” – from the 2nd verse of the same song, written originally in 1893 when the U.S. population was 65 million people – have grown the “alabaster cities” of the fourth verse to the point where we are the “World’s Breadbasket” no more. With a population of five times larger than when that song was written, we can’t even feed our own people any more.

At least that’s what our trade data tells us. Look at this chart. The category of foods, feeds and beverages – agricultural products – was once a bright spot in America’s ever-darkening trade picture. We always had a surplus for export to feed the world’s hungry, but no more. Our balance of trade in agriculture products has steadily eroded to the point where we’ve now run a deficit for the fourth year in a row. It improved a little in 2020 but, as you can see, it’s on a downward trajectory.

I have always steered clear of the subject of overpopulation in terms of resource shortages. Thomas Malthus hypothesized in 1798 that the world’s population would outstrip its ability to produce food. As decades wore on and the food supply grew even faster than the population, the other sciences mocked economists and proclaimed that mankind is clever enough to overcome all obstacles to further population growth. That has certainly proven true so far and may be true to a point, but any thinking person knows that there will eventually come a tipping point. In fact, it was only by ignoring the possibility of resource shortages and by pondering what else might happen as the population continues to grow that I was able to discover the inverse relationship between population density and per capita consumption – and its ramifications for worsening unemployment and poverty.

Nevertheless, I can’t help taking note of this trade data for agricultural products. Mind you, I’m no expert in the subject. One could argue that there are many other factors involved. Federal agriculture policy such as price supports, policies that encourage farmers to allow fields to lie fallow, etc. may all be playing a part here. Whether or not that explains the deficit in agriculture, I can’t say.

However, the data doesn’t lie. For the past four years, America is growing increasingly dependent on imports to feed its ever-growing population. That should be cause for concern for everyone. It’s bad enough that America is dependent on imports for virtually all things manufactured. That makes us weak and vulnerable. Being dependent on others for our food supply is far worse. Having enough to eat is a matter of total food production divided by the total population. Both factors need to be considered if we’re going to rectify this situation. It isn’t enough to simply consider how to boost production. (Do we really want more genetically-modified crops, more pesticides in our produce and more hormones in our meat?) It’s time to consider whether the number of “pilgrim feet” and whether the size of our “alabaster cities” has begun to overwhelm our “fruited plains.”

Immigrants, take note. Bring some grain and fruit with you, because we’re all out.


In a test of Biden’s backbone, China reneges on trade deal.

March 10, 2021

Under a threat by the U.S. to expand its 25% tariffs to all Chinese imports, In January of 2020, China signed the “Phase 1” trade deal with the U.S. They agreed to boost their imports of American goods significantly in 2020, followed by an equally large increase in 2021. Very specific goals were set for boosting its imports of manufactured goods, energy products, agriculture products and overall goods. And the consequences for failing to meet those goals were also very specific – extending the 25% tariffs that already were applied to half of all Chinese imports to include the other half.

When it comes to trade, tariffs are the only thing China understands. Those tariffs were devastating for China. Their surplus of trade with the U.S. shrank by roughly 25% as companies abruptly abandoned China and took their manufacturing elsewhere. China was desperate to avoid any more tariffs.

However, based upon America’s long track record of failure to follow through on virtually every trade deal it’s ever negotiated when the terms of the deal weren’t met, China figured the same would happen again. So far, they’re right. Their imports fell far short of the 2020 milestones. Actually, they didn’t just fall short of the 2020 goals. They barely exceeded the 2017 baseline in all four categories of goods. The U.S. didn’t utter a peep of protest.

Now the results for January are in. Their imports of total goods from the U.S. fell 37% short of the goal. Their imports of manufactured goods were 42% short, and their imports of energy products were 71% below the goal. Only their imports of agriculture products were close to the goal, falling only 5% short.

Biden has vowed to continue Trump’s tough stance against China. He has to act. The whole world is watching. This wasn’t some Trump executive order that he can choose to ignore. It’s a signed agreement between the United States and China. If he allows them to thumb their nose at this trade deal, we’ll have zero credibility with the rest of the world regarding trade and beyond. We’ll be seen as a patsy. The U.S. is being economically crushed by our trade deficit, not just with China but with many other nations that prey on the U.S. market to support their bloated labor forces at the expense of American workers. If Biden won’t show some backbone on this critical issue, then no one can take him seriously on anything.


January Trade Deficit: 2021 Off to a Bad Start

March 8, 2021

2020 was, by far, the worst year on record in terms of America’s trade deficit. To be sure, the COVID-19 pandemic was a big factor as imports of medical equipment and supplies exploded and COVID stimulus checks, intended to stimulate the U.S. economy, instead were used to purchase a flood of imported goods. Meanwhile, American exports felt the sting of a global economic slowdown. As a result, the goods trade deficit in 2020 was $915.6 billion, all of which – and a little more – was due to the deficit in manufactured goods, which tallied $919 billion. It’s not a stretch to suggest that America’s trade policy was actually a bigger drag on the American economy in 2020 than was the COVID-19 pandemic. Yet, the pandemic got all of the attention while the media, as usual, barely took notice of the trade deficit.

If January is any indication, don’t look to 2021 for any signs of hope. The report released by the Commerce Department on Friday revealed an overall trade deficit of $68.2 billion in January, the 2nd worst month on record and just $0.8 billion shy of the record set only two months earlier. The deficit in manufactured goods was worse – $86.5 billion, the 3rd worst month on record and just $0.7 billion shy of the record set the previous month. Annualized, the deficit in manufactured goods tops $1 trillion per year.

The only bright spot in the report is China, thanks to the 25% tariffs imposed by the Trump administration on half of all of its goods. The trade deficit with China came in at $310.8 billion in 2020 – bad, but a big improvement over the record of $419 billion set in 2018. In January of this year, the deficit with China was $26.25 billion – an annualized rate of $315 billion.

But even the news on China isn’t all good. I’ll cover how China did relative to the “Phase 1” trade agreement it signed with the U.S. in January, 2020 in my next post.

And there’s more bad news to be found in the January report that I’ll also cover in a subsequent post.


Biden “inherits” record trade deficit. Will he do anything about it?

February 8, 2021

The trade data released by the Commerce Department last week marked another sad milestone in America’s economic decline. The December balance of trade in manufactured goods set another new record -$87.3 billion – beating the previous record set only one month earlier. That’s an annualized deficit of $1.05 trillion and represents a loss of approximately fourteen million high-paying manufacturing jobs.

2020, the final year of Trump’s presidency, was by far the worst on record in terms of the trade deficit. In the title of this post, the word “inherits” is in quotation marks because while he now takes over that deficit from Trump, the truth is that Biden has played a key role in creating and exacerbating the deficit his entire adult life as a champion of globalist policies. He joined the U.S. senate in 1973. In 1975, America sadly experienced its final trade surplus, and has run an ever-growing deficit for the past forty-four years. He didn’t just “inherit” this problem. He played a key role in creating it, and it’s impossible to over-estimate the devastation done to our economy and to working Americans.

What will he do about it? Not a damn thing. His corporate benefactors, seeing more potential for profit growth in overseas markets than in the mature U.S. economy, have been paying him for decades to facilitate the transfer of America’s wealth and the export of American manufacturing jobs. He pays lip service to revitalizing American manufacturing, but that’s all it is.

Impeach Trump for inciting the Capitol building riot? Perhaps Biden should be impeached for his lifetime of work fomenting the unrest in this country that created the fertile ground for Trump’s rhetoric to take root.


Biden vows to continue Trump’s tough stance on China. Here’s his chance to prove it.

February 7, 2021

During the course of Trump’s administration, there was a massive shift in America’s, and indeed the entire world’s perception of China. In 2016, China was admired for its embrace of capitalism and its rapid pace of economic development. Chairman Xi Jinping was admired for slowly and in subtle ways guiding his country away from communism and, so the world hoped, shifting gradually toward democracy. Even Trump was charmed by his cow-eyed, benevolent smile and was taken in by his promise to be America’s economic partner.

Soon, however, all that began to change. China engaged in a massive military buildup, laid claim to a vast swathe of the South China Sea, bullied its neighbors there, engaged in ethnic cleansing of its Uighur muslim population and unleashed a horrible pandemic on the world’s population while covering up its role. Chairman Xi was named chairman of China for life. He quickly reneged on every promise he made on trade.

By his third year in office, Trump could see the truth – that Xi was a dictator bent on subjugating the U.S. and on world domination. They couldn’t be trusted. He imposed 25% tariffs on half of all their exports. With Trump on the verge of extending those tariffs across the board, China agreed to a deal – the “Phase 1” deal it signed in January of last year. In exchange for holding off on the additional tariffs (and likely counting on America’s traditional lack of enforcement of trade deals), China agreed to specific benchmarks for dramatically increasing its imports of American goods in 2020 and 2021.

By the end of Trump’s administration, the whole western world agreed with its assessment of China – that it represents an existential threat that must be confronted. Upon winning the election, and eager to demonstrate that he would not be the kind of weak leader that many feared, Biden vowed to continue the tough stance on China.

Now, with the Commerce Department’s release of the final trade data for 2020 last week, comes Biden’s first and biggest chance to prove what he meant. True to form, China completely ignored the requirements of the Phase 1 trade deal. Not only did it not meet the 2020 goal, it barely exceeded the 2017 baseline that was the basis for those goals. Here’s the Phase 1 trade deal data.

China missed its goal for total goods imports by $62 billion. In fact, it barely beat the 2017 baseline, rising by only $1.9 billion from 2017. In the all-important category of manufactured goods where the most jobs are created, China not ony fell short of the goal for 2020 by $37.5 billion, it actually fell short of the 2017 baseline by $4.7 billion. In terms of energy products, it barely beat the 2017 baseline while falling short of the 2020 goal by $17.7 billion. It also fell short of the goal for agricultural imports, the category key to support by America’s farmers, by $9.9 billion. This failure cost Trump critical support in the heartland and his failure to enforce this deal cost him support all across the country.

The results are in and they’re horrible. Predictably, China has once again reneged on this critical trade benchmark. So what’ll it be, president Biden? This is your big chance to prove that you meant what you said about being tough with China. Declare China in breach of the deal and extend the tariffs across the board on all Chinese imports. Failure to act – and giving China yet another chance would constitute such a failure – will prove that your rhetoric was just bluster and that you are the kind of weak leader that many feared.