US tariffs cost China US$35 billion, hurt both economies, says UN

US President Donald Trump meets China's President Xi Jinping at the G-20 leaders summit in Japan, in June 2019.
US President Donald Trump meets China's President Xi Jinping at the G-20 leaders summit in Japan, in June 2019.PHOTO: REUTERS

GENEVA (REUTERS) - A trade war between the world's top two economies cut United States imports of Chinese goods by more than a quarter, or US$35 billion (S$47 billion), in the first half of this year and drove up prices for American consumers, a United Nations study showed on Tuesday (Nov 5).

Beijing and Washington have been locked in a trade feud for the past 16 months although there are hopes that an initial deal offering some relief may be signed this month.

If that fails, nearly all Chinese goods imports into the US - worth more than US$500 billion - could be affected.

US imports from China subject to tariffs fell to US$95 billion between January and June from US$130 billion during the same period of 2018, the study released by the UN Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) showed.

"Overall, the results indicate that the United States tariffs on China are economically hurting both countries," the report said.

"United States losses are largely related to the higher prices for consumers, while China's losses are related to significant export losses."

Over time, Chinese companies began absorbing some of the extra costs of the tariffs through an 8 per cent dip in export prices in the second quarter of 2019, but that still left 17 per cent "on the shoulders of US consumers", said the report's author Alessandro Nicita, an economist at UNCTAD.

The sector hit hardest by the US tariffs are US imports of Chinese office machinery and communication equipment, which fell by US$15 billion.

Over time, the scale of Chinese export losses increased alongside mounting tariffs, the study said.


Other countries stepped up to fill most of the gap left by China, the study found.

It named Taiwan as the largest beneficiary of "trade diversion", with US$4.2 billion in additional exports to the United States in the first half of 2019. They were mostly office and communication equipment.

Mexico increased exports to the United States by US$3.5 billion, mostly agriculture and transport equipment and electrical machinery.

The European Union boosted deliveries by US$2.7 billion, mostly via additional machinery exports, it found.

"The longer the trade war goes on, the more likely these losses and gains will be permanent," Nicita said.

Not all of Chinese trade losses were picked up by other economies, and billions of dollars in trade were lost entirely.

The paper did not analyse the effect of Chinese tariffs on US imports into China because detailed data was not yet available.

It also does not capture the most recent phase of the trade war - including 10 per cent tariffs on about US$125 billion worth of additional Chinese goods imported into the United States that took effect on Sept 1 - beyond noting that it is likely to add to existing trade losses.