BEIJING/WASHINGTON – Reuters
China hit back quickly on Wednesday against U.S. plans to impose tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods, retaliating with a list of similar duties on key American imports, including soybeans, planes, cars, beef and chemicals in a move that sent global markets lower.
Beijing responded after U.S. President Donald Trump’s administration targeted 25 percent tariffs on some 1,300 Chinese industrial technology, transport and medical products, acting less than 11 hours later in a sharp escalation of the trade dispute between the world’s two economic superpowers.
President Trump, who contends his predecessors served the United States badly in trade matters, rejected the notion that the tit-for-tat moves amounted to a trade war.
“We are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S.,” he wrote on Twitter early on Wednesday.
The trade actions will not be carried out immediately, so there may be room for maneuver. Publication of Washington’s list starts a period of public comment and consultation expected to last around two months. The effective date of China’s moves depends on when the U.S. action takes effect.
Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, and U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross both held out the possibility of talks to resolve the matter. Asked by reporters outside the White House whether the United States could lose a trade war, Kudlow said, “No. I don’t see it that way. This is a negotiation, using all the tools.”
Ross told CNBC it would not be surprising if negotiations ensued, but did not say when this might happen.
The latest trade moves unnerved investors and sent shivers through global stock markets and commodities.
Shares in U.S. exporters of everything from food to planes were hammered by Beijing’s list of duties on key U.S. imports, including agricultural products, planes and chemicals.
At midday in New York, shares of aerospace giant Boeing Co., the single largest U.S. exporter to China, tumbled 2.7 percent, agricultural machinery maker Deere & Co. slipped 4.4 percent and Caterpillar fell 1.8 percent.
The Dow Jones Industrial Average was down 0.56 percent as big U.S. manufacturers and chip-makers bore the brunt, while the S&P 500 fell 0.29 percent. The dollar also fell and oil dropped to a two-week low.
While Washington targeted products that benefit from Chinese industrial policy, including its “Made in China 2025” initiative to replace advanced technology imports with domestic products in strategic industries such as advanced IT and robotics, Beijing’s appeared tailored to inflict political damage.
While Washington’s list was filled with many obscure industrial items, China’s list strikes at signature U.S. exports, including soybeans, frozen beef, cotton and other agricultural commodities produced in states from Iowa to Texas that voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
The list extends to tobacco and whiskey, both produced in states including Kentucky, home of U.S. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, like Trump a Republican.
One of the first opportunities for the United States and China to discuss the dispute is during an April 20-22 meeting of the International Monetary Fund and World Bank in Washington, where finance officials traditionally meet on the sidelines to discuss bilateral issues.
A U.S. official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said no talks had been scheduled yet between U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and his Chinese counterpart during the IMF gathering of member countries.
The possibility of an escalating U.S.-China trade war will result in “a bumpy ride” for the U.S. economy, said James Bullard, president of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis.
U.S.-made goods that appear to face added tariffs in China, based on an analysis of Beijing’s list, include Tesla Inc. electric cars, Ford Motor Co.’s Lincoln auto models, Gulfstream jets made by General Dynamics Corp. and Brown-Forman Corp.’s Jack Daniel’s whiskey.
Information technology products, from cellphones to personal computers, largely escaped the latest salvo of U.S.-China trade measures despite accounting for a significant portion of bilateral trade.
China ran a $375 billion goods trade surplus with the United States in 2017. Trump has demanded that the China cut the trade gap by $100 billion.
“China is also trying to weaken our will by targeting certain segments of our economy,” White House trade adviser Peter Navarro told National Public Radio. “But let’s remember: we buy five times more goods than they buy from us. They have a lot more to lose in any escalation in this matter.”
Beijing’s list of 25 percent additional tariffs on U.S. goods covers 106 items with a trade value matching the $50 billion targeted on Washington’s list, China’s commerce and finance ministries said.
“This is a real game changer and moves the trade dispute away from symbolism to measures which would really hurt U.S agricultural exports,” said Commerzbank commodities analyst Carsten Fritsch.
China’s tariff list covers aircraft that would likely include older models such as Boeing Co.’s workhorse 737 narrowbody jet, but not newer models like the 737 MAX or its larger planes.
The U.S. move was broadly flagged last month and is aimed at forcing Beijing to address what Washington says is deeply entrenched theft of U.S. intellectual property and forced technology transfer from U.S. companies to Chinese competitors, charges Chinese officials deny.
Foreign ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said China had shown sincerity in wanting to resolve the dispute through negotiations.
“But the best opportunities for resolving the issues through dialogue and negotiations have been repeatedly missed by the U.S. side,” he told a regular briefing on Wednesday.
The tariff list from the office of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer followed China’s imposition of tariffs on $3 billion worth of U.S. fruits, nuts, pork and wine to protest U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs imposed last month by Trump.
Many consumer electronics products such as cellphones made by Apple Inc and laptops made by Dell were excluded from the U.S. list, as were footwear and clothing, drawing a sigh of relief from retailers who had worried about higher costs for American consumers.
Many U.S. business groups support Trump’s efforts to stop the theft of U.S. intellectual property but have questioned whether tariffs are the right approach.
The Office of the United States Trade Representative has scheduled a May 15 public hearing on the tariffs.