US could unveil tariffs on $275b of Chinese goods as early as today

Trump listening during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington in August 2018.
Trump listening during a Cabinet meeting at the White House in Washington in August 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON • US President Donald Trump has decided to impose new tariffs on US$200 billion (S$275 billion) worth of Chinese goods, two people briefed on the decision said, and an official announcement could come as early as today.

The new tariffs would apply to more than 1,000 products, including refrigerators, air-conditioners, furniture, television sets and toys. These penalties could drive up the cost of a range of products ahead of the holiday shopping season, though it is unclear by how much.

Mr Trump has ordered aides to set the tariffs at 10 per cent, which is likely to lead to higher prices for American consumers. The 10 per cent tariffs were scaled back from Mr Trump's initial plan to impose 25 per cent penalties on all of these imports.

The tariffs are paid by US companies that import the products, and the companies are likely to pass the costs along to US consumers in the form of higher prices.

The United States imports roughly US$500 billion worth of Chinese goods each year, and - combined with existing tariffs - these new penalties would cover half of all goods sent to the US from China.

A White House spokesman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Saturday afternoon. Last Friday, White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said: "The President has been clear that he and his administration will continue to take action to address China's unfair trade practices. We encourage China to address the longstanding concerns raised by the United States."

Mr Trump's top advisers have been united behind his effort to push China to change its economic practices, but they have been divided on his tactics. Some have advocated a more cautious, diplomatic approach. But Mr Trump has signalled that he thinks only the threat of real economic pain will push Beijing to make major changes.

 
 
 
 

Mr Trump has accused China of a number of unfair trade practices. He wants China to take steps including buying more American products, opening itself up to more US investment and ending what he says is its theft of US intellectual property. He recently boasted that he thinks China's economy is suffering because of his tough policies.

Mr Trump first imposed tariffs on roughly US$50 billion of Chinese products this summer. The list of products mostly included industrial equipment to avoid directly hurting US consumers.

China responded by imposing tariffs on US products such as beef and soya beans, a response that spooked the US agricultural industry and angered Mr Trump and other White House officials.

Mr Trump then ordered his advisers to come up with the list of US$200 billion of other Chinese products to penalise, a package that includes many consumer products.

And two weeks ago, he said he was preparing a third package of penalties on what he said would be US$267 billion of additional items, a list that is likely to encompass all remaining goods produced in China.

The tariffs come as a number of top White House advisers have been trying to de-escalate tensions between Mr Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping.

The two leaders may see each other at the United Nations General Assembly in New York this month and are scheduled to meet on the sidelines of the Group of 20 summit in Buenos Aires in November.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin was planning to restart talks with China soon.

Chinese leaders have vowed to retaliate against any escalation of the trade battle with punitive steps of their own, and Mr Trump's move could further push Beijing towards such action.

NYTIMES

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 17, 2018, with the headline 'US could unveil tariffs on $275b of Chinese goods as early as today'. Print Edition | Subscribe