Trump to hit China with more tariffs

US President Donald Trump speaks at an Iftar, the meal that breaks the sunrise to sundown fast of Muslims celebrating Ramadan, at the White House in Washington DC, on 13 May, 2019. (Nicholas Kamm / AFP Photo)

The United States (US) prepared to hit China with new tariffs even as President Donald Trump said he’ll meet his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, at next month’s Group of 20 (G-20) summit, an encounter that could prove pivotal in a deepening clash over trade.

The US Trade Representative’s (USTR) office Monday released a list of about US$300 billion worth of Chinese goods including children’s clothing, toys, mobile phones and laptops that Trump has threatened to hit with a 25 percent tariff.

If Trump proceeds with the tariffs, it would see almost all imports from China covered by punitive import duties. It also would turn the president’s trade wars into a tangible reality for many Americans and their pocketbooks as he seeks re-election.

Under a process outlined by US officials, the new tariffs would not take effect until late June at the earliest. But that could come just as Trump meets with Xi on the side-lines of a G-20 leaders meeting in Osaka, Japan from 28-29 June, raising the stakes in an already escalating trade war.

Trump on Monday warned Beijing not to go too far in responding to US trade actions after China rolled out its retaliation to his move to hike import duties on a separate US$200 billion tranche of imports from China last week.

“There can be some retaliation, but it can’t be very substantial,” Trump told reporters Monday at the White House during a meeting with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban.

Later in the day, Trump said it would become apparent “in about three or four weeks” whether trade talks with China were successful.

“You never really know, right?” Trump said at an Iftar dinner at the White House. “But I have a feeling it’s going to be very successful.”

US stocks dropped on signs of an escalating trade war, with the S&P 500 falling the most in four months. Treasuries rallied with the yen on demand for haven assets.

The release of the additional tariffs list and the continuing escalation it signals drew an outcry from business groups who have been lobbying against the duties. USTR said that the new tariffs would not apply to pharmaceuticals or rare earths.

“We support the administration’s efforts to deliver a meaningful trade agreement that levels the playing field for American businesses and workers,” Matthew Shay, president and CEO of the National Retail Federation, said in a statement. “But the latest tariff escalation is far too great a gamble for the US economy.”

Economists have warned that the existing tariffs would hurt US growth. But they are also worried an escalation to cover all trade from China and the Chinese retaliation it would provoke would do far more damage and could even tip the US economy into recession.

China’s announcement earlier Monday of its plans to raise duties on some US$60 billion in American imports starting 1 June, defied a call from Trump to resist escalating the trade war.

Less than two hours after Trump tweeted a warning that “China should not retaliate – will only get worse!” the Ministry of Finance in Beijing unveiled the measures on its website. The new rate of 25 percent will apply to 2,493 US products, with other goods subject to duties ranging from five percent to 20 percent, it said.

Inflation effect

Higher US tariffs will drive up the Federal Reserve’s preferred measure of underlying inflation, and further escalation could raise consumer prices even more and dent US growth, Goldman Sachs Group Inc. economists said in a research note.

China’s move to hike tariffs came in response to the US’s decision last week to increase levies on US$200 billion in Chinese imports to 25 percent from 10 percent. Trump on Monday accused China of backing out of a deal that was taking shape with US officials, saying Beijing reneged on an agreement to enshrine a wide range of reforms in Chinese law.

“I say openly to President Xi & all of my many friends in China that China will be hurt very badly if you don’t make a deal because companies will be forced to leave China for other countries,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “You had a great deal, almost completed, & you backed out!”

China has said it will retaliate against any further increases in tariffs. But it also has been careful to calibrate its response. The Chinese list released Monday matched Trump’s latest move in that it simply hikes the duties on a list of thousands of items that had already been targeted in an earlier phase of the trade war.

Beijing’s retaliation on about US$60 billion of US goods includes extra tariffs of as much as 25 percent on goods ranging from small aircraft, computers, and textiles to chemicals, meat, wheat, wine and LNG. Some auto parts remain exempted from retaliatory charges. Imports of cars aren’t affected, as an extra duty of 25 percent from a separate list was suspended during the negotiations as a sign of goodwill. - Bloomberg