Donald Trump steps up his trade war with China, with aggressive tweets and declarations by White House advisors that Beijing is reneging on commitments in negotiations.
Officials said Trump will increase tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods — almost 40% of Beijing’s exports to the US — on Friday morning, from 10% to 25%.
US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Monday, “We’re moving backwards instead of forwards, and in the president’s view that’s not acceptable. Over the last week or so, we have seen an erosion in commitments by China.”
Many analysts had expected a US-China agreement this week to end the tariffs war, launched by Trump in July 2018 with duties on $50 billion of Chinese goods and intensified with charges on another $200 billion later in the year.
But Trump, likely calculating that a get-tough message will play better in his 2020 re-election bid, suddenly signaled on Sunday that tariffs on the remainder of Chinese exports to the US were imminent.
….of additional goods sent to us by China remain untaxed, but will be shortly, at a rate of 25%. The Tariffs paid to the USA have had little impact on product cost, mostly borne by China. The Trade Deal with China continues, but too slowly, as they attempt to renegotiate. No!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) May 5, 2019
He followed up on Monday with a tweet misunderstanding and/or misrepresenting the trade deficit with China: “The United States has been losing, for many years, 600 to 800 Billion Dollars a year on Trade. With China we lose 500 Billion Dollars. Sorry, we’re not going to be doing that anymore!”
In fact, the American trade deficit — which is not a “loss” to the US but an excess of Americans buying Chinese goods against US exports to China — was $323 billion rather than $500 billion. It was still the highest figure since 2006: despite Trump’s tariffs, US imports from China rose 11.3% while American goods to Beijing rose only 0.7%.
Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin maintained that a trade agreement could still be reached, with a Chinese delegation refraining from cancellation of travel plans for negotiations on Thursday and Friday.
“We’re not breaking up talks at this point,” Lighthizer said.
Mnuchin pointed to the threat of a Friday escalation of tariffs as a tactic in the talks, saying the US will reconsider negotiations got “back on track”. He insisted that it became “particularly clear over the weekend” that the Chinese had moved negotiations “substantially backwards”.
China said on Monday that it still plans to send a delegation, although a Foreign Ministry spokesman would not confirm if Vice Premier Liu He, who has led the talks, will attend.
Lighthizer made a short visit to Beijing last week. He said on return that he was concerned by China’s refusal to mention commitments to update laws in the final text of the trade agreement, according to “people familiar with the situation”.
The sources said Chinese negotiators insisted that any concessions come through regulatory and administrative actions, not changes to Chinese law. The provisions include the forced transfer of technology from American companies to Chinese firms.
Beijing wants Trump to lift the tariffs on the $250 billion of Chinese goods more quickly than the Administration is offering.
US markets started lower on Monday but largely shook off the news. The Dow Jones index lost only 0.25% to close at 26,438. The S&P 500 index closed down 0.45%.