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Trump Says No Hurry to Sign Deal With China as Trade War Escalates

The United States early on Friday increased its tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods to 25% from 10%, rattling financial markets already worried the 10-month trade war between the world's two largest economies could spiral out of control.

Reuters
    May 10, 2019 9:04 AM  PT
Trump Says No Hurry to Sign Deal With China as Trade War Escalates

WASHINGTON/BEIJING (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Friday said he was in no hurry to sign a trade deal with China as Washington imposed a new set of tariffs on Chinese goods and negotiators began the second day of last-ditch talks to try to salvage an agreement.

The United States early on Friday increased its tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods to 25% from 10%, rattling financial markets already worried the 10-month trade war between the world's two largest economies could spiral out of control.

The move, which is expected to lead to Chinese retaliation, went into effect just hours before U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He started the second day of talks in Washington.

Liu was seen leaving the U.S. trade representative's office near midday and it was not immediately clear if that signaled an end to the current round of negotiations.

In a series of morning tweets, Trump defended the tariff hike and said he was in "absolutely no rush" to finalize a deal, adding that the U.S. economy would gain more from the levies than any agreement.

"Tariffs will bring in FAR MORE wealth to our country than even a phenomenal deal of the traditional kind," Trump said in one of the tweets.

Despite Trump's insistence that China will absorb the cost of the tariffs, U.S. businesses will pay them and likely pass them on to consumers. Consumer spending accounts for more than two-thirds of U.S. economic activity.

Global stocks, which have fallen this week on the increased U.S.-China tensions, came under renewed pressure on Friday. Major U.S. stock indexes were down more than 1% and prices of U.S. government debt rose. The U.S. dollar slipped against a basket of currencies.

Trump, who has adopted protectionist policies as part of his "America First" agenda and railed against China for trade practices he labels unfair, said the trade talks, originally due to end on Friday, could drag on beyond this week.

"We will continue to negotiate with China in the hopes that they do not again try to redo deal!" said Trump, who has accused Beijing of reneging on commitments it made during months of negotiations.

Following the U.S. tariff hike, China's Commerce Ministry said it would take countermeasures but did not elaborate.

China responded to Trump's tariffs last year with levies on a range of U.S. goods including soybeans and pork, which hurt U.S. farmers at a time when their debt has spiked to its highest level in decades.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Friday that Trump had asked him to create a plan to support the farmers. The U.S. Department of Agriculture already has rolled out up to $12 billion to help offset farmers' China-related losses.

'No Greater Threat'

Under the latest U.S. action, U.S. Customs and Border Protection imposed a 25% duty on more than 5,700 categories of products leaving China after 12:01 a.m. EDT (0401 GMT) on Friday.

Seaborne cargoes shipped from China before midnight were not subject to the new tax as long as they arrived in the United States prior to June 1. Those cargoes will be charged the original 10% rate.

"This delay might create an unofficial window during which the U.S. and China can continue to negotiate," investment bank Goldman Sachs wrote in a note, adding that it was a "somewhat positive sign" that talks were continuing.

Trump gave U.S. importers less than five days notice about his decision to increase the rate on $200 billion worth of goods, which now matches the rate on a prior $50 billion category of Chinese machinery and technology goods.

He has also threatened to put new tariffs on another $325 billion in Chinese imports.

Investors worry the escalating trade war will further damage a slowing global economy. The higher tariffs could reduce U.S. gross domestic product (GDP) by 0.3% and China's by 0.8% in 2020, consultancy Oxford Economics said.

"There is no greater threat to world growth," French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said on Friday.

Many business groups have opposed the tariffs, saying they will be disastrous for companies and lead to higher prices for consumers across a range of products.

"Our industry supports more than 18 million U.S. jobs – but raising tariffs will be disastrous," Gary Shapiro, chief executive of the Consumer Technology Association, a U.S. trade group, said in a statement.

It may take three or four months for American shoppers to feel the pinch but retailers will have little choice but to raise prices to cover the rising cost of imports before too long, economists and industry consultants say.

The U.S.-China battle also has raised alarm in Europe, which faces an economic slowdown and the ripple effects of Britain's decision to leave the European Union. There are concerns Trump will follow through on a threat to impose tariffs on imported cars and auto parts, an important export sector for Europe.

EU countries agreed last month to start formal trade negotiations with the United States, notably on a deal to cut duties on industrial goods. If Washington imposes new trade-restrictive measures, the talks would be suspended and duties would be imposed on U.S. goods.

Retaliate How?

The biggest Chinese sector affected by the latest tariff increase is a $20 billion-plus category of internet modems, routers and other data transmission devices, followed by about $12 billion worth of printed circuit boards used in a vast array of U.S.-made products.

Furniture, lighting products, auto parts, vacuum cleaners, and building materials also are high on the list of products subject to increased duties.

Just hours after the U.S. move, which will add pressure on an already slowing Chinese economy, China's central bank said it was fully able to cope with any external uncertainty.

James Green, a senior adviser at McLarty Associates who until August was the top USTR official at the embassy in Beijing, said he expected China would increase non-tariff barriers on U.S. firms, such as delaying regulatory approvals.

"I think the Chinese, in the end, will want to keep negotiations going. The question is: 'where do they go for retaliation?'" he said.

Even without the trade war, China-U.S. relations have continued to deteriorate, with an uptick in tensions over the South China Sea, Taiwan, human rights and China's plan to re-create the old Silk Road, called the Belt and Road Initiative.

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