The escalating trade row between Washington and Beijing could impact Japanese companies that source production in China and export grain from U.S. subsidiaries. But many so far appear to be taking a wait-and-see approach on whether the world’s two largest economies will follow through on their proposed tariffs or find a solution that allows both to save face.
After the United States unveiled this week plans to impose a 25 percent tariff worth $50 billion on around 1,300 Chinese high-technology products ranging from electronics to health care, China fired back Wednesday with its own threat to levy 25 percent tariffs on 106 American products worth around $50 billion including soybeans, beef and cars, a move that roiled global markets.
Japan could also be hit if U.S.-bound shipments from China fall, said Kenji Yumoto, vice chairman of the Japan Research Institute.
“A tariff war between the U.S. and China could not only cut down on trade between the two nations but can affect countries like Japan, which for example exports parts to China to be assembled and sent to the U.S.,” Yumoto said.
“The question is how big of an impact this could create, and whether it will escalate. My take is that the two sides will reach a compromise in the last hour to avoid having to take action,” he said.
Washington’s plan came after an investigation into Beijing’s alleged theft of American intellectual property, and as U.S. President Donald Trump aims to reduce the nation’s $375.2 billion trade deficit in goods with China.
The plan, however, won’t be carried out immediately. Washington’s publication of its list on Tuesday kicked off a period of public comment and consultation expected to last around two months, while China’s own timing for execution depends on when the U.S. acts.
In the meantime, the U.S. appeared to show willingness to negotiate a resolution, with Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, telling reporters Wednesday that the announcement may not go into effect and is part of a negotiating tactic.
Masaya Sasaki, senior economist at the Nomura Research Institute, said if implemented, the tariffs could hurt Japanese manufacturers with production bases in China.
“It may not be direct, severe damage, but there’s a possibility the tariffs could slowly have an impact,” he said.
Spokespeople for Sony Corp., Panasonic Corp., Hitachi Ltd. and Nidec Corp., which all have plants in China, declined to comment on the move, noting that the tariffs haven’t been imposed and that it is unclear which China-made products, if any, would fall under the proposed scheme.
Beijing’s retaliatory tariffs could also hurt Japanese trading houses that export grain to China through their American subsidiaries.
Spokeswomen for major trading houses Marubeni Corp., Mitsui & Co. and Mitsubishi, whose U.S. subsidiaries export soybeans to China, said they are examining the situation, without elaborating.
The retaliatory tariffs follows Trump’s decision last month to slap tariffs of 25 percent on imported steel and 10 percent on imported aluminum from specific countries including China and Japan. China retaliated with 25 percent and 15 percent tariffs on 128 U.S. products that took effect Monday.
Toshihiro Mizutani, deputy director at the Japan External Trade Organization, said that based on hearings the organization conducted recently with Japanese firms in China, it appeared they were worried about the impact the conflict could have on markets.
“We received multiple comments that if the yen strengthens due to the trade row it could be a negative for Japanese companies,” he said.
Tokyo has cautioned the two economic giants against starting trade war.
“We have been saying that reacting with countermeasures does not serve any country’s interest, and we will continue to impress this upon each country,” Minister of Economy, Trade and Industry Hiroshige Seko said Tuesday, according to Kyodo News.
“It would be appropriate to reach a solution in line with World Trade Organization rules,” he said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is expected to tell Trump about Japan’s view on the importance of free trade when the two meet in the U.S. later this month.
But Mireya Solis, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution think tank in Washington, said there is a political cost in that “efforts to convince the Americans to work together with the European Union and Japan on taming Chinese mercantilism have not gained much traction.”
“Instead, the U.S. has relied on unilateral trade measures outside the WTO that Japan cannot support,” she said.
Staff writer Cory Baird contributed to this article