WASHINGTON - U.S. President Donald Trump is seeking to impose tariffs on up to $60 billion of Chinese imports and will target the technology and telecommunications sectors, a source who had discussed the issue with the White House said on Tuesday.
A second source who had direct knowledge of the administration’s thinking said the tariffs could come “in the very near future” and while they were targeted at technology and intellectual property, they could be much broader and the list could eventually run to 100 products.
The White House declined comment on the size or timing of any move.
Washington is targeting Chinese high-tech companies to punish them for forcing U.S. companies to give up their technology secrets in exchange for being allowed to operate in the country.
China runs a $375 billion trade surplus with the United States, and when President Xi Xinping’s top economic adviser visited Washington recently, the administration pressed him to come up with a way of reducing that number.
Trump came to office on a protectionist agenda and his first action as president was to pull the United States out of a Pacific trade pact, known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
He has started talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and most recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
While the tariffs on steel and aluminum, announced last week by Trump, are viewed as relatively insignificant in terms of imports and exports, moves to target China directly risk a direct and harsh response from Beijing.
A second person, who is an industry lobbyist in Washington who is familiar with the administration’s thinking said the process was being led by Peter Navarro, an avowed protectionist, who has accused American companies of conniving with the Chinese state, and by Commerce Secretary Robert Lighthizer, who also favors tariffs as a tool.
Speaking to reporters in the Capitol, U.S. House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady stressed that Trump was serious about addressing the issue of intellectual property theft.
“He’s serious about calling their hand on this, and my understanding is they are looking at a broad array of options to do that,” Brady said.