US President Donald Trump on Friday cranked up the heat in a trade spat with China, ordering a tariff hike on almost all remaining imports from the world’s second-biggest economy, but Beijing said that talks would continue to resolve the row.
After saying on Twitter that two days of trade talks in Washington had been “candid and constructive,” Trump changed tack and followed through on a threat he had been making for months.
“The president ... ordered us to begin the process of raising tariffs on essentially all remaining imports from China, which are valued at approximately US$300 billion,” US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement.
The move came less than 24 hours after Washington increased punitive duties on US$200 billion of Chinese imports, raising them to 25 percent from 10 percent, days after the Trump administration accused Beijing of reneging on its commitments.
Details on the process for public notice and comment would be posted tomorrow, ahead of a final decision on the new tariffs, Lighthizer said.
They were not expected to go into effect for several months.
China’s top trade negotiator, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He (劉鶴), had earlier said that Beijing “must respond” to any US tariffs.
The developments came as two days of talks to resolve the trade spat ended on Friday with no deal, but no immediate breakdown either, offering a glimmer of hope that Washington and Beijing could find a way to avert damage to the global economy.
“Over the course of the past two days, the United States and China have held candid and constructive conversations on the status of the trade relationship between both countries,” Trump said on Twitter. “The relationship between [Chinese] President Xi [Jinping (習近平)] and myself remains a very strong one, and conversations into the future will continue.”
The tariffs on China “may or may not be removed depending on what happens with respect to future negotiations!” he added.
US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin and Lighthizer on Friday met for about two hours with Liu and then headed for the White House to brief Trump, who had said he was in no hurry to reach a deal, arguing that the US was negotiating from a position of strength.
“We have a consensus in lots of areas, but to speak frankly there are areas we have differences on, and we believe these concern big principles,” Liu said.
Liu and Xi cannot be seen as giving in too much with trade concessions to the US in fear of triggering comparisons to past “unequal treaties” forced on China in the 19th and 20th centuries.
Trump continues to argue that tariffs could in some ways be preferable to reaching a trade deal.
“Tariffs will bring in FAR MORE wealth to our country than even a phenomenal deal of the traditional kind,” Trump said on Twitter.
Since last year, the US and China have exchanged tariffs on more than US$360 billion in two-way trade, weighing on both countries’ economies.
Economists have said that duties are paid by US companies and consumers, and result in higher prices.
Liu compared the negotiations to a marathon: “When you get to the last stage it is comparatively the hardest stage, now we need to hold on, it is the darkness before dawn.”
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