Democratic candidates bash Trump's tariffs, but agree China is a problem

During the third debate in Houston on Thursday night, top Democratic presidential candidates all agreed: Trade policy in the U.S. is broken and needs to be fixed.

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But the 2020 hopefuls differentiated on the best way to address the problems -- with most disparaging the slew of tariffs that President Trump has placed on China, as well as traditional U.S. allies, like the European Union.

“The fact of the matter is China, not the very deficit, they’re stealing our intellectual property, they’re violating the World Trade Organization, they’re dumping steel on us,” former Vice President Joe Biden said. “In addition to that, we’re in a position where if we don’t set the rules, we’re going to find ourselves with China setting the rules. And that’s why you need to take on China.”

Earlier in the day, Trump said he would consider striking an interim agreement to resolve the more than year-long trade war with Beijing until a more-permanent deal can be reached.

Both Andrew Yang, an entrepreneur, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said they would keep the billions of dollars' worth of tariffs in place, if elected, for leverage in negotiations with China.

“I would not repeal the tariffs on day one,” Yang said. “But I would let the Chinese know that we need to hammer out a deal.”

He noted that imbalances between the world’s two largest economies are real, but lambasted Trump’s trade policy as “arbitrary.”

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, blamed “giant multinational corporations” for the faulty policy. At the end of July, Warren rolled out a plan laying out a number of criteria, including environmental standards and labor rights, that countries would need to meet in order to order to be able to trade with the U.S.

“Our trade policy has been broken for decades,” she said.

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Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, slammed the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he blamed for the loss of 4 million, good-paying jobs, and took a dig at Biden, who supported its passage in 1993.

"People who had these jobs ended up getting other jobs making 50 percent of what they made in manufacturing," he said.

The decades-old trilateral trade agreement has also been a frequent target of Trump, who has criticized large trade deficits the U.S. has with Mexico and Canada, as well as the relocation of American jobs and companies.

Trump forged a new trade deal with Canada and Mexico last year, aptly named the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, that included new key provisions governing the auto and dairy industries.

U.S. goods and services trade with Canada totaled an estimated $544.9 billion in 2016, with a trade surplus of $11.2 billion.