China to cut tariffs on goods including pork, tech items from Jan 1

People trying to buy pork in Shandong province on Dec 19, 2019. China faces severe meat shortages after an outbreak of the African swine fever disease decimated the country's massive pig herd. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - China will lower tariffs on products ranging from frozen pork and avocado to some types of semiconductors next year as Beijing looks to boost imports amid a slowing economy and a trade war with the United States.

Next year, China will implement temporary import tariffs, which are lower than the most-favoured-nation tariffs, on more than 850 products, the finance ministry said on Monday (Dec 23). That compared with 706 products that were taxed at temporary rates in 2019.

The tariff changes were made to "increase imports of products facing a relative domestic shortage, or foreign specialty goods for everyday consumption," the ministry said in a statement on its website.

The move also helps to support Beijing's claim to be further opening its economy as it pursues a deal with the Trump administration.

"The move in lowering import tariffs reflects that the government wants to reaffirm its stance to the world on freer trade amid the trade war," said Gary Ng, an economist at Natixis in Hong Kong. "Domestically, lowering import tariffs are helpful in reducing business and consumer costs."

The list allows lower tariffs on goods coming from World Trade Organization members.

For countries with which China has free-trade agreements, duties can be lower still. They include New Zealand, Peru, Costa Rica, Switzerland, Iceland, Singapore, Australia, South Korea, Georgia, Chile and Pakistan, according to the statement.

The tariff reduction measures "facilitate the open economy to a new level," according to the ministry statement.

China and the United States cooled their drawn-out trade war earlier this month, announcing a Phase 1 agreement that would reduce some US tariffs in exchange for more Chinese purchases of American farm products and other goods.

The finance ministry said the tariff rate for frozen pork will be cut to 8 per cent from the most-favoured-nation duty of 12 per cent, as China copes to plug a huge supply gap after a severe pig disease decimated its hog herd.

An outbreak of African swine fever that started in August last year has nearly halved China's pig herd, official data showed, sending pork prices soaring to record levels.

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Beijing has issued a series of measures to boost pig production, while increasing imports of various meats to meet domestic demand.

China brought in 229,707 tonnes of pork in November, up more than 150 per cent from the previous year. Pork imports CNC-PORK-IMP for the first 11 months of the year stood at 1.733 million tonnes, up 58 per cent from a year earlier.

China will also lower temporary import tariffs for ferroniobium - used as an additive to high strength low alloy steel and stainless steel for oil and gas pipelines, cars and trucks - from 1% to zero in 2020 to support its high-tech development.

The country brought in 35,909 tonnes of ferroniobium in 2018 and 37,818 tonnes for the first 10 months of this year.

The tariff rate for frozen avocado was cut to 7 per cent from the most-favoured-nation duty of 30 per cent, the ministry said.

China's economy is expanding at its weakest rate in nearly 30 years and could face more downward pressure next year, but the government has vowed to keep growth within a reasonable range in 2020 and keep policies forward-looking and effective.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said China had agreed to buy US$200 billion (S$271.3 billion) worth of additional US goods and services over the next two years as part of the Phase 1 trade pact to be signed in early January. If the purchases are made, they would represent a huge jump in US exports to China.

Beijing has said the increased purchases are in line with the growing need of the Chinese people, as the country opens its markets further to global trade.

Tariffs for some asthma and diabetes medications will be set at zero, the ministry said, while duties on some wood and paper products will be lowered too.

Import tariffs on multi-component semiconductors will be cut to zero.

China will also further lower most-favoured-nation import tariffs on some information technology products from July 1, the ministry said.

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