Trump orders huge tariffs on China, raises trade war worries
Primed for economic combat, President Donald Trump set in motion tariffs on as much as $60 billion in Chinese imports to the U.S. on Thursday and accused the Chinese of high-tech thievery, picking a fight that could push the global heavyweights into a trade war.
China threatened retaliation, and Wall Street cringed, recording one of the biggest drops of Trump’s presidency. But he declared the U.S. would emerge “much stronger, much richer.”
It was the boldest example to date of Trump’s “America first” agenda, the culmination of his longstanding view that weak U.S. trade policies and enforcement have hollowed out the nation’s workforce and ballooned the federal deficit. Two weeks ago, with fanfare, he announced major penalty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports that he said threatened national security.
Even as Trump was talking tough at the White House, however, his administration moved to soften the sting of the metal tariffs, telling Congress on Thursday that the European Union, Australia, South Korea and other nations would join Canada and Mexico in gaining an initial exemption. And that raised questions about whether his actions will match his rhetoric.
China responded early today by announcing a list of U.S. goods, including pork, apples and steel pipe, it said may be hit with higher import duties.
The Commerce Ministry said the higher U.S. tariffs “seriously undermine” the global trading system. The ministry urged the U.S. “to resolve the concerns of the Chinese side as soon as possible,” and appealed for dialogue “to avoid damage to overall Chinese-U.S. cooperation.”
U.S. Rep. Tim Ryan, in a Thursday letter to the president, wrote he was pleased to see the administration “give this issue the attention it deserves.”
Ryan of Howland, D-13th, added, “We need to be tough on trade, but we also need to be smart. We can do both.”
At home, investors on Wall Street showed their rising concern about retaliation and business-stifling cost increases for companies and consumers. The Dow Jones industrials plunged 724 points.
Trump himself, joined by supportive business executives, complained bitterly about the nation’s trade deficit and accused China of stealing America’s prized technology.
“Any way you look at it, it is the largest deficit of any country in the history of our world. It’s out of control,” Trump said of the U.S-China imbalance. The U.S. reported a $375 billion deficit with China last year, which Trump has blamed for the loss of American jobs and closing of plants.
The president said the tariffs could cover “about $60 billion” in trade with China, but senior White House officials said the U.S. Trade Representative had identified 1,300 product lines worth about $50 billion as potential targets.
That list will include aerospace, information and communication technology, and machinery, according to a USTR fact sheet. But further details were scant.
The order signed by Trump directed the trade representative to publish a list of proposed tariffs for public comment within 15 days. Trump also asked Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to come up with a list of restrictions on Chinese investment and said the administration was preparing a case before the World Trade Organization.
Despite Trump’s confident words, business groups and Republican lawmakers are worried his tariffs could undercut actions they have welcomed in his first year.