What impact will a Biden presidency have on world trade?

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The election of Joe Biden as US president could lead to a change of focus for the US' trade policy, though the rivalry with China is set to remain.

The votes have mostly been counted, and it's clear that Joe Biden will be the next president of the United States, after defeating Donald Trump by 306 votes to 232 in the all-important Electoral College, as well as beating the incumbent by more than five million votes in the popular vote.

While Mr Trump has refused to concede and continues to file lawsuits alleging fraud - with little evidence - the rest of the world has moved to welcome Mr Biden to the White House. The president-elect has already spoken to world leaders in Europe and Canada and has received congratulations from China.

Attention is therefore turning to what the Biden administration's foreign policy will look like, and in particular the new president's approach to world trade. Under Mr Trump, the US has taken a significantly harder line in recent years, eschewing multinational deals and leaning heavily on tariffs as its weapon of choice. 

But with Biden positioning himself as a return to normality after a turbulent four years, what will this translate to in terms of trade policy?

The next steps for the US-China trade war

While the tone may be less confrontational than under Mr Trump, one thing we shouldn't expect to see is any significant softening of the US' stance on China. 

Earlier this year, Mr Biden emphasized that the US still needs to "get tough" with China. He warned that if the Asian nation is allowed to continue on its present course, it will continue to "keep using subsidies to give its state-owned enterprises an unfair advantage", as well as using stolen US intellectual property to give its companies a leg up.

Commentators have suggested that while we may see a ceasefire in the current trade war, a full peace still remains a way off. Indeed, Mr Biden is set to maintain a 'buy American' policy not so far removed from Mr Trump's 'America first' attitude, but he is much less likely to favor an 'America alone' attitude.

A return to multilateralism?

Where Mr Biden is set to differ significantly from his predecessor may be in how he responds to the threat posed by China. Earlier this year, the president-elect said the most effective way to do this would be to build a "united front" with allies and other partners around the world to act as a counter to China's moves - not only on trade, but also on issues such as human rights.

This may signal a return to  the kind of multilateralism promoted by president Barack Obama, which was largely dropped under Mr Trump. While Mr Biden has not yet signalled whether the US would consider reentering the Trans Pacific Partnership pact abandoned by Mr Trump, or signing up for new deals such as the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), closer collaboration with other countries is expected in the coming years.

Mr Biden said: "We make up 25 per cent of the world's trading capacity, of the economy of the world. We need to be aligned with the other democracies - another 25 per cent or more - so that we can set the rules of the road." 

Resetting relations with Europe

However, it's not just in trans-Pacific trade where the US could change its approach under Mr Biden. The next president is also expected to push for a resetting of relations with the EU following a fractious few years under Trump, which has been characterized by a series of tit-for-tat tariffs.

Analysts have suggested that Mr Biden is unlikely to go ahead with the imposition of new tariffs on imports such as cars, while he may even consider removing tariffs on products such as steel and aluminium imposed by Mr Trump as a way of extending an olive branch to the US' European allies.

However, a shift in priorities could also mean disappointment for the UK, which had been banking on a trade deal with the US to kickstart its post-Brexit trade. While president Trump was said to be eager to get a deal done, Mr Biden is expected to view this as a much lower priority.

Indeed, the Telegraph has reported advancing such a deal will not be among his aims for his first 100 days in office. Mr Biden - who has Irish roots - has also warned a US-UK trade deal would be in jeopardy should the UK government proceed with plans that may undermine the Good Friday Agreement.