US reiterates plan to raise tariffs on cars from China

WASHINGTON • The Trump administration reiterated on Wednesday its intention to raise tariffs on cars made in China, a move aimed at pressuring Beijing into easing trade restrictions on US firms before President Donald Trump's meeting with President Xi Jinping this week.

Mr Trump's top trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer said he would "examine all available tools" to equalise tariffs that China imposed on US cars. China's aggressive industrial policies were harming US workers and companies, he added.

Reports have suggested that negotiators were working towards a handshake deal between Mr Trump and Mr Xi when they get together at the Group of 20 summit meeting in Argentina. Such a deal could include suspension of new tariffs next year in exchange for a concrete commitment from Mr Xi to address complaints that his government has made it more expensive for US companies to operate in China.

"We are continuing to raise these issues with China," Mr Lighthizer said. "As of yet, China has not come to the table with proposals for meaningful reform."

Yesterday, China said the current 40 per cent tariff on American cars was a result of the trade dispute "provoked by the US".

"Speaking to the media frequently or waving the big stick of tariffs is not helping," Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a news briefing, when asked about Mr Lighthizer's comments.

Earlier on Wednesday, several Democratic senators, alarmed by the possibility that Mr Trump was backing down from his tough stance on trade, urged him to shun any deal that would not truly level the playing field between the two countries.

"We urge you to stand firm against China if meaningful concessions are not made. American jobs, American innovation and long-term American economic prosperity are at stake," wrote Senator Chuck Schumer and Senator Sherrod Brown.

Mr Trump's economic team is divided over how to deal with China. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow have warned Mr Trump that raised tariffs could hurt growth and pinch US firms. Mr Lighthizer has taken a tougher line.

Mr Trump signalled his desire for car tariffs in a tweet on Wednesday, saying that tariffs on imported small trucks had benefited that industry in the US. He suggested that the same would be the case for cars.

NYTIMES, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on November 30, 2018, with the headline 'US reiterates plan to raise tariffs on cars from China'. Print Edition | Subscribe