A loaded China Shipping container ship makes its way down the main channel at the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, U.S. (Photographer: Tim Rue/Bloomberg News)

The Trade War Is On: Timeline of How We Got Here and What’s Next

(Bloomberg) -- The trade dispute between the U.S. and China has entered a new phase, with the Trump administration announcing higher tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports, and an equivalent response from Beijing.

Without talks, in the next two weeks or so, the U.S. will announce a further $16 billion of goods to be hit with higher duties, and we can expect an equal response from the other side. That’s notwithstanding Trump’s threat to escalate with tariffs on $200 billion more should China retaliate to his first salvo -- and of course, they’ve done that.

Here’s a timeline of major developments this year (in reverse chronological order)

DateJoint actionU.S. actionChinese action
Coming (maybe)President Donald Trump imposes tariffs on another $200 billion in Chinese exports.
In about 2 weeksTariffs on $16 billion in imports.Tariffs on $16 billion in imports, depending on U.S. actions.
7/6/2018Tariffs on $34 billion in imports begin.Tariffs on $34 billion in imports begin.
7/6/2018ZTE Corp. receives limited authorization to resume business.
7/3/2018U.S. computer chip company Micron Technology Inc. ordered to halt sales in China. 
6/27/2018Trump agrees to less aggressive option to limit Chinese investment in the U.S. 
6/21/2018President Xi Jinping says China will hit back if struck, according to the Wall Street Journal, and criticizes U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo calling Chinese claims of economic openness “a joke.”
6/20/2018White House releases report accusing China of threatening U.S. interests.
6/19/2018Trump says U.S. looking to put tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese exports, with another $200 billion after that if China retaliates. 
6/18/2018Pompeo calls Chinese claims of economic openness “a joke.”
6/15/2018U.S. announces tariffs on $50 billion of imports from China, with Trump threatening more if China retaliates.China responds in kind. 
6/15/2018Qualcomm Inc.’s takeover of NXP Semiconductors NV is said to be approved by Chinese regulators, although a later report contradicts this.
6/15/2018Pompeo meets Xi, discussing trade and security.
6/7/2018Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announces deal allowing ZTE to get back into business. 
6/6/2018China said to offer to buy $25 billion more in U.S. goods in 2018.
6/3/2018China says previous offers and deals are off if tariffs imposed.
6/2-4/2018Wilbur Ross, Chinese Vice Premier Liu He meet in Beijing for talks.
5/30/2018China announces cuts to tariffs on some consumer goods, to start July 1. 
5/29/2018U.S. announces plan to limit some visas for Chinese citizens to protect intellectual property.
5/29/2018U.S. announces that it’s moving ahead with tariffs on $50 billion of imports and a plan to curb investment in sensitive technology.
5/29/2018China said to be considering buying more U.S. coal to narrow trade deficit.
5/28/2018At the WTO, U.S. accuses China of imposing laws that result in the theft of U.S. tech and IP. 
5/28/2018China ready to approve Qualcomm/NXP deal if it gets assurances that the U.S. will lift ban on ZTE Corp.
5/28/2018U.S. said to be pressing China to sign long-term import contracts. 
5/25/2018U.S. announces a $1.3 billion fine and other punishments for ZTE, but will allow company to resume purchasing from American suppliers.
5/23/2018Trump backs away from the previous day’s deal, saying U.S. will "probably have to use a different structure."
5/22/2018China will cut import duties on cars to 15% from 25%.
5/22/2018Two nations agree on  the "broad outline" of a settlement for ZTE dispute, the WSJ reports.China offered to remove tariffs on U.S. farm products as part of the deal.
5/21/2018Trump tweets that China will buy "massive amounts of additional farm/agricultural products."
5/20/2018Both nations reach an agreement and issue a joint statement. The U.S. agrees to hold off on tariffs. China has offered to significantly increase purchases of U.S. goods. 
5/18/2018China ends anti-dumping and anti-subsidy investigation into sorghum.
5/17/2018Talks start in Washington.
5/14/2018China is said to restart review of Qualcomm’s proposed NXP deal.
5/13/2018Trump tweets that he’s working with Xi to get ZTE "back into business."
5/10/2018ZTE ceases major operations in the U.S. 
5/3-4/2018Trade talks in Beijing. No agreement is reached, and no statement is released. U.S. demands a $200 billion cut in trade deficit.China protests over ZTE case, demands end of 301 investigation.
4/28/2018China objects to being on U.S. intellectual property watch list.
4/27/2018U.S. keeps China on IP priority watch list of nations.
4/26/2018Reported that China may cut car import tariffs by half. 
4/26/2018Reported that U.S. looking into China’s Huawei Technologies Co. for possible violation of sanctions against Iran.
4/17/2018China announces it will collect anti-dumping tariffs on sorghum imports from the U.S., a trade worth about $1 billion in 2017.
4/16/2018U.S. penalizes China’s ZTE for violating a previous agreement punishing it for doing business with Iran and North Korea. The company is banned from buying U.S. technology for seven years.
4/10/2018Xi  promises to open up various sectors including autos and finance.
4/5/2018Trump issues statement that says “in light of China’s unfair retaliation” for his initial tariffs, his administration will consider an addition $100 billion in tariffs. 
4/5/2018China complains to the World Trade Organization about U.S. tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.
4/4/2018U.S. responds to China’s WTO complaint on the section 301 tariffs, calling it baseless.
4/4/2018China complains to WTO about the section 301 tariff action by the U.S.
4/4/2018China says it will levy an additional 25 percent tariff on imports of 106 U.S. products including soybeans, automobiles, chemicals and aircraft, in response to proposed American duties on its high-tech goods.
4/3/2018The U.S. releases a list dominated by high-tech industrial products as targets for proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of imports. This is aimed at recouping losses from China’s alleged abuse of intellectual property.
4/2/2018China says it will start levying tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. imports including fresh fruits, nuts, wine and pork.
Early AprilLiu He tells other officials that trade talks between the two parties broke down after the U.S. demanded that China curtail support for high-technology industries.Beijing had offered to cut the bilateral trade deficit by $50 billion. 
3/27/2018U.S. releases Section 301 report on China.
3/23/2018China unveils tariffs on $3 billion of U.S. imports in response to steel and aluminum tariffs .
3/23/2018US complains to WTO about Chinese protection of IP.
3/22/2018U.S. proposes tariffs in response to China’s "unfair trade practices” related to technology transfer, IP, and innovation; says it will complain to WTO and look at restricting investment from China. 
3/9/2018Trump signs tariffs on imported steel and aluminum from all nations, including China.
2/4/2018China starts a one-year anti-subsidy investigation into sorghum imported from the U.S.
1/22/2018U.S. imposes safeguard tariffs on washing machine and solar cell imports. While much of these imports don’t come from China, the statement makes clear that Chinese dominance of the global supply chain was a concern.

Further Reading

  • Timeline of the dispute from the Peterson Institute for International Economics.
  • U.S. Trade Representative’s press release and report on the Section 301 tariffs on IP.
  • WTO dispute list.
  • Campaign speech by Donald Trump from June 2016 detailing much of what has become his international economic policy

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.

With assistance from Editorial Board

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