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Donald Trump escalates China trade war with tariffs on $200-bn imports

AP | Reuters/Washington 12 Jul 18 | 01:24 AM

FILE PHOTO: US President Donald Trump is pictured during a meeting at the Istana in Singapore | Reuters photo

The Trump Administration is readying tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese imports, ranging from burglar alarms to mackerel, escalating a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

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The Office of the US Trade Representative proposed 10 per cent tariffs on Tuesday on a list of 6,031 Chinese product lines.

The office will accept public comments and hold hearings on the plan around August 20-23 before reaching a decision after August 31, according to a senior administration official who briefed reporters on condition of anonymity.

Last Friday, the US imposed 25 per cent tariffs on $34 billion on Chinese products, and Beijing responded by hitting the same amount on US imports. The administration said the new levies are a response to China’s decision to retaliate against the first round of US tariffs. President Donald Trump (pictured) has threatened to tax as much as $550 billion in Chinese products — an amount that exceeds America’s total imports from China last year. The US complains that China uses predatory practices in a push to challenge American technological dominance. 

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Chinese tactics, the administration says, include outright cybertheft and forcing US companies to hand over technology in exchange for access to the Chinese market.

The initial US tariff list focused on Chinese industrial products in an attempt to limit the impact on American consumers. By expanding the list, the administration is beginning to hit products that US households buy, including such things as electric lamps and fish sticks.

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“Tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese products amounts to another multibillion-dollar tax on American businesses and families," said Scott Lincicome, a trade lawyer and senior policy analyst for the group Republicans Fighting Tariffs. 

Members of Congress are increasingly questioning Trump’s aggressive trade policies, warning that tariffs on imports raise prices for consumers and expose US farmers and manufacturers to retaliation abroad.

ALSO READ: Tit-for-tat tariffs to destroy Sino-US trade: China on ballooning trade war

“We cannot turn a blind eye to China’s mercantilist trade practices, but this action falls short of a strategy that will give the administration negotiating leverage with China while maintaining the long-term health and prosperity of the American economy," Senate Finance Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said in a statement.  

China meanwhile accused the US of bullying and warned it would hit back after the Trump Administration raised the stakes in their trade dispute, threatening 10 per cent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods.

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China’s commerce ministry said on Wednesday it was “shocked" and would complain to the World Trade Organization, but did not immediately say how it would retaliate. In a statement, it called the US actions “completely unacceptable".

The foreign ministry described Washington’s threats as “typical bullying" and said China needed to counter-attack to protect its interests.

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“This is a fight between unilateralism and multilateralism, protectionism and free trade, might and rules," foreign ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying told a regular briefing on Wednesday. Beijing has said it would hit back against Washington’s escalating tariff measures, including through “qualitative measures," a threat that US businesses in China fear could mean anything from stepped-up inspections to delays in investment approvals and even consumer boycotts. The Wall Street Journal, citing unnamed Chinese officials, said Beijing was considering steps including holding up licenses for US companies, delaying approvals of mergers involving US firms and stepping up border inspections of American goods.

China could also limit visits to the US by Chinese tourists, a business state media said is worth $115 billion, or shed some of its US Treasury holdings, Iris Pang, Greater China economist at ING in Hong Kong, wrote in a note. The $200 billion far exceeds the total value of goods China imports from the US.

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