US and China both omit key products from tariff threats

DETROIT (AP) — Americans spent nearly $96 billion last year on cellphones and computers imported from China, far more than on any other items. But you won't find them on the list of Chinese-made products the Trump administration is threatening with tariffs.

And China spends about $1 billion a year importing animal hides from the U.S. to make shoes, car interiors and furniture upholstery. But China didn't include those on its own list of threatened tariffs.

In their escalating conflict over trade, what the U.S. and China are leaving off their tariff lists tells as much as what's on them. The U.S. would put tariffs on flat-screen televisions, for example, but not on clothes. China threatens tariffs on U.S. whiskey but not beer. The omissions indicate how far both countries might be willing to go, or what they could use as future bargaining chips.

The threats intensified last week, when the Trump administration released its list of imports from China worth $50 billion on which it would impose 25-percent tariffs as punishment for China's alleged theft of U.S. intellectual property. China retaliated with its own threatened tariffs on $50 billion worth of U.S. products.

The tariffs are far from a done deal. The U.S. proposal is subject to a public-comment period, and both countries' lists could still shrink or grow. On Thursday, for example, Trump directed the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to consider $100 billion in additional tariffs.

So far, neither country is targeting products they would have a hard time getting elsewhere. China has U.S. soybeans on its list because it can easily buy them from other countries like Brazil. But Brazilian animal hides aren't as prized as U.S. ones, since U.S. winters made animal hides thicker and more resistant to bugs, says Stephen Sothmann of the U.S. Hide, Skin and Leather Association.

The U.S. is the top supplier of animal hides and skins to China's $220 billion leather industry. China exported 680 million pairs of leather shoes last year, according to the Chinese Leather Industry Association.

The U.S. list excludes laptop computers because they'd also be hard to get from somewhere else. China currently supplies at least 70 percent of laptops, said William Reinsch, a senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a think tank.

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