Barely 24 hours after the U.S. hit China with new tariffs on imports, Beijing fired a return salvo Saturday in a growing trade dispute with President Donald Trump by imposing duties on a $34 billion list of U.S. goods ranging from soybeans to whiskey to cigars.
Beginning July 6, China will slap an extra 25 percent tariff on 545 products from the United States including soybeans, electric cars, orange juice, whiskey, salmon and cigars, according to the Ministry of Finance.
China said additional tariffs on 114 more U.S. items, covering chemical products, medical equipment and energy, will be announced later.
“The Chinese side doesn’t want to fight a trade war, but facing the shortsightedness of the U.S. side, China has to fight back strongly,” the Ministry of Commerce said in a statement.
The ministry also said it was scrapping an earlier deal to buy more American farms goods, natural gas and other products that had been aimed at narrowing Beijing’s multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States.
The statement said the U.S. step on Friday violated “the relevant rules of the World Trade Organization” and went against a consensus reached in bilateral economic and trade agreements.
Such a move, it said, “seriously infringes upon the legitimate rights and interests of the Chinese side and undermines the interests of China and its people.”
“The Chinese side firmly opposes that,” the statement said, according to the official Xinhua news agency.
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The U.S. move on 25 percent tariffs, which covered an array of Chinese-made goods from jet engines to dishwasher parts, sent markets plunging on fears of a trade war.
The Chinese announcement is the latest volley in a trade dispute between China and the U.S. that has been escalating for months. In April, China raised import duties on a $3 billion list of U.S. products that include pork and apples. Chinese officials have threatened further retaliation, sparking fears of a trade war between the two countries.
In May, tensions eased temporarily after Chinese negotiators agreed to buy more American farm goods, natural gas and other products. American officials said they would suspend threatened tariff increases on up to $150 billion of Chinese goods.
But the dispute flared up after the White House renewed its plan for a tariff hike on $50 billion of Chinese goods as part of a technology dispute. The Chinese government had warned after another round of talks June 3 that it would scrap the farm purchase deals if new tariffs went ahead.
Washington, along with Europe, Japan and other trading partners, have complained that Beijing’s economic gamesmanship includes outright theft of foreign technology and subsidies and protection from competition for fledgling Chinese industries. They say those violate Chinese market-opening commitments under the World Trade Organization (WTO).
Citing what he described as unfair trading practices and China’s “theft of intellectual property,” Trump threatened on Friday to take tougher measure if Beijing retaliated with trade barriers of its own.
“This situation is no longer sustainable,” Trump said. “The United States can no longer tolerate losing our technology and intellectual property through unfair economic practices.”
Trump officials said the products to be hit with tariffs include those that benefit from the “Made in China 2025” policy, an effort by Beijing to ramp up aerospace, robotics and other manufacturing industries. Officials said the list of products does not include common consumer products, such as cell phones and TVs.
In all, 818 products representing $34 billion in U.S. imports will fall under the new tariffs — less than the roughly 1,300 products the administration had initially considered. Administration officials said an additional 284 products are under review.
The current dollar amount of U.S. tariffs imposed on Chinese goods are tiny, however, when compared to the size of the $18 trillion U.S. economy. The $50 billion in tariffs will likely mean just a tenth of a percentage point hit “at most” on annual U.S. economic growth and a similar jump in overall consumer prices, according to data from Barclays, the British bank.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer described the tariffs Friday as a “defensive” action.
“China’s government is aggressively working to undermine America’s high-tech industries and our economic leadership through unfair trade practices and industrial policies,” Lighthizer said.
Businesspeople and economists say Chinese leaders are less likely to compromise on the technology dispute. They view plans for state-led development of companies capable of competing globally in fields including electric cars, renewable energy and biotech as a route to prosperity and to restore China to its rightful role as a world leader.
Beijing also has announced plans to cut import duties on autos and some consumer goods and to ease limits on foreign ownership in auto manufacturing, insurance and some other industries, though those don’t directly address U.S. complaints.
On Thursday, a Commerce Ministry spokesman said some exporters were rushing to fill orders due to concern trade conditions might change, but said they were “not the mainstream.”