BEIJING — The U.S.-China trade war escalated further Tuesday, with China announcing retaliatory tax increases on $60 billion worth of U.S. imports, including coffee, honey and industrial chemicals.
China’s Finance Ministry said its tariff increases are aimed at curbing “trade friction” and the “unilateralism and protectionism of the United States.”
There was no word on whether China would back out of trade talks it said it was invited to by the U.S., but a Chinese Commerce Ministry statement said the U.S. increase “brings new uncertainty to the consultations.”
The two countries have already imposed import taxes on $50 billion worth of each other’s goods. President Donald Trump threatened to add an additional $267 billion in Chinese imports to the target list if China retaliated for the latest U.S. taxes. That would raise the total affected by U.S. penalties to $517 billion, covering nearly everything China sells to the United States.
The American Chamber of Commerce in China warned Tuesday that Washington is underestimating Beijing’s determination to fight back.
“The downward spiral that we have previously warned about now seems certain to materialize,” said William Zarit, the chamber’s chairman.
Plans to Overtake U.S. Technological Supremacy
At the root of the trade war are U.S. complaints about China’s plans to try to overtake U.S. technological supremacy. Those plans include “Made in China 2025,” which calls for creating powerful Chinese entities to compete in robotics and other fields. The U.S. says the plans are based on stolen technology, violate China’s market-opening commitments and might erode American industrial leadership.
Trump has strained relations with potential allies including the European Union, Canada and Mexico by raising tariffs on imported steel and aluminum. He demanded Canada and Mexico renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement to make it more favorable to the United States.
Trump has also complained about America’s gaping trade deficit — $336 billion last year — with China, its biggest trading partner.
“China has had many opportunities to fully address our concerns,” Trump said in a statement. “I urge China’s leaders to take swift action to end their country’s unfair trade practices.”
The trade gap means China will run out of U.S. imports to tax while the U.S. still has plenty of Chinese imports to target. But Beijing has other ways to retaliate. American companies say regulators are already starting to disrupt their operations.
U.S. Taxes Are Targeting Chinese Goods
Last week, the American Chambers of Commerce in China and in Shanghai reported 52 percent of more than 430 companies that responded to a survey said they have faced slower customs clearance and increased inspections and bureaucratic procedures.
“Contrary to views in Washington, China can — and will — dig its heels in and we are not optimistic about the prospect for a resolution in the short term,” said Zarit of the American Chamber of Commerce. “No one will emerge victorious from this counter-productive cycle.”
In the first two rounds of tariffs, the Trump administration took care to try to spare American consumers from the direct impact of the import taxes. The tariffs focused on industrial products, not on things Americans buy at the mall or via Amazon.
By expanding the list to $200 billion of Chinese products, Trump may spread the pain to ordinary households. The administration is targeting a bewildering variety of goods — from sockeye salmon to baseball gloves to bamboo mats — forcing U.S. companies to scramble for suppliers outside China, absorb the import taxes or pass along the cost to their customers.
The U.S. government did withdraw some items from its preliminary list of imports to be taxed, including child-safety products such as bicycle helmets. And in a victory for Apple Inc., the administration removed smart watches and some other consumer electronics products.