The Soro Enshi container ship, operated by A.P. Moller-Maersk A/S, sails from Yangshan Deep Water Port in this aerial photograph taken in Shanghai, China. (Photographer: Qilai Shen/Bloomberg)

China Fires Back at Trump With New Tariffs on $60 Billion

(Bloomberg) -- The U.S.-China trade war deepened as Beijing announced retaliatory tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods and the Trump administration threatened duties on virtually all Chinese imports.

On Monday, President Donald Trump ordered his administration to levy 10 percent tariffs on about $200 billion in Chinese goods on Sept. 24 and to increase the rate in January to 25 percent if Beijing refuses to offer trade concessions. In retaliation, Beijing has announced plans to hit U.S. goods, ranging from wheat to textiles, with 5 percent to 10 percent tariffs.

Stocks shrugged off the latest ratcheting up of trade tensions, with the S&P 500 Index, Dow Jones Industrial Average and Nasdaq Composite Index all higher. The calm reaction has some investors saying the markets had already priced in 10 percent tariffs and that it could’ve been worse.

The sides also indicated there could still be scope to reach a trade deal. The Chinese government is still willing to negotiate, the country’s finance ministry said on Tuesday. Kevin Hassett, the chairman of Trump’s Council of Economic Advisers, said he expected that U.S.-China talks can still take place.

Neither government has officially announced that trade negotiations will resume after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin extended an invitation to his counterparts in Beijing earlier this month. “I’m hopeful that the talks happen next week,” Hassett told MSNBC Television on Tuesday. “I’ve not heard they’ve been canceled.”

Brewing Fight

Still, a solution to the trade conflict seems a long way off.

Trump on Monday said that the U.S. will immediately pursue additional tariffs on about $267 billion of Chinese imports if Beijing strikes back against American farmers and industry. Such a move would mean that roughly all U.S. imports of Chinese goods -- worth about $505 billion last year -- would be subjected to tariffs.

Trump doubled down on that threat Tuesday, vowing punitive measures against China if it targets politically potent U.S. agricultural products for retaliation.

“China has openly stated that they are actively trying to impact and change our election by attacking our farmers, ranchers and industrial workers because of their loyalty to me,” Trump said on Twitter. “What China does not understand is that these people are great patriots.”

And in a move that could further increase bilateral tensions, the Justice Department informed China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency and China Global Television Network that they must register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act, according to a person familiar with the matter.

CHINA REACT: Trade War Will Be Long Haul, Growth Drag Larger

Meanwhile Beijing’s plans for tariffs on $60 billion of U.S. goods include an additional 5 percent duty on about 1,600 kinds of U.S. products including smaller aircraft, computers and textiles, and an extra 10 percent on more than 3,500 items including chemicals, meat, wheat, wine and LNG. In a previous announcement from August, those products had faced extra tariffs of up to 25 percent.

The escalating tensions have drawn attention to the leverage that China holds as the largest foreign creditor to the U.S. According to U.S. government data published Tuesday, China’s ownership of U.S. Treasuries fell to a six-month low in July.

The president and his fellow Republicans face some political peril if Trump’s trade battles have negative repercussions for some of their core supporters in farming and industrial states, with less than 50 days before the congressional midterm elections.

China Fires Back at Trump With New Tariffs on $60 Billion

The Trump administration’s duties on $200 billion spared smartwatches and Bluetooth devices, bicycle helmets, high chairs, children’s car seats and playpens. They were among 300 tariffs lines that were removed from a preliminary list of targets for U.S. duties.

The Trump administration tailored its final list of Chinese targets to help ensure American consumers don’t feel the pinch, Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said Tuesday.

“We were trying to do things that were least intrusive on the consumer," Ross said on CNBC. “We really went item-by-item trying to figure out what would accomplish the punitive purpose on China and yet with the least disruption in the U.S."

What Our Economist Says

“Mounting U.S. pressure on China is unlikely to result in concessions from Beijing. The further blows on trade come at a time when the Chinese economy is already slowing. A prolonged trade war could deepen the drag on growth -- with larger implications for Asia’s supply chains.”

Chang Shu, Bloomberg Economics

Trump is ratcheting up pressure on Beijing to motivate it to change its trade practices. Business leaders are warning the high-stakes strategy could upend their supply chains and raise costs, as economists worry Trump’s tactics could derail the broadest global upswing in years.

Trump’s tariff campaign is also dividing his advisers between hawks like U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, who are determined to force sweeping changes to China’s industrial policies, and Mnuchin, a former Wall Street banker who is seeking a trade deal.

China will reject new trade talks if Trump moves ahead with the $200 billion round of duties, throwing into doubt the prospect of a diplomatic breakthrough, two people familiar with the matter said this week.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.