Trump orders tariff hike on remaining Chinese imports

Heating up:A worker assembling an air conditioner’s case ata Haier factory in China's Shandong in 2017.APMark Schiefelbein  

U.S. President Donald Trump cranked up the heat in a trade battle with China on Friday, ordering a tariff hike on almost all remaining imports from the world’s second-biggest economy, but Beijing said talks would continue to resolve the row.

After tweeting that two days of trade talks in Washington had been “candid and constructive”, Mr. Trump changed tack and followed through on a threat he had been making for months.

“The President... ordered us to begin the process of raising tariffs on essentially all remaining imports from China, which are valued at approximately $300 billion,” U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in a statement.

The move came less than 24 hours after Washington increased punitive duties on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports, raising them to 25% from 10%, days after the Trump administration accused Beijing of reneging on its commitments.

Details on the process for public notice and comment will be posted on Monday, ahead of a final decision on the new tariffs, Mr. Lighthizer said. They were not expected to go into effect for several months.

China’s top trade negotiator, Vice-Premier Liu He, had warned earlier that Beijing “must respond” to any U.S. tariffs. The developments came as two days of talks to resolve the trade battle ended on Friday with no deal, but no immediate breakdown either, offering a glimmer of hope that Washington and Beijing could find a way to avert damage to the global economy.

“Over the course of the past two days, the U.S. and China have held candid and constructive conversations on the status of the trade relationship between both countries,” Mr. Trump tweeted. “The relationship between President Xi (Jinping) and myself remains a very strong one, and conversations into the future will continue.”

The tariffs on China “may or may not be removed depending on what happens with respect to future negotiations!”

Three disagreements

Mr. Liu told reporters the talks had been “productive” and said the two sides would meet again in Beijing at an unspecified date, but he warned that China would make no concessions on “important principles”.

“Negotiations have not broken down, but rather on the contrary, this is only a normal twist in the negotiations between the two countries, it is inevitable,” Mr. Liu said.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Mr. Lighthizer met for about two hours with Mr. Liu on Friday and then headed for the White House to brief Mr. Trump, who had said he was in no hurry to reach a deal, arguing the U.S. was negotiating from a position of strength.

“We have a consensus in lots of areas but to speak frankly there are areas we have differences on, and we believe these concern big principles,” Mr. Liu said.

Mr. Liu pointed to three major areas of disagreement: whether to cancel all trade war tariffs when an agreement is reached, the exact size of Chinese purchases of U.S. goods, and a “balanced” agreement text.

“Any country needs its own dignity, so the text must be balanced,” Mr. Liu said.

Mr. Liu and his backer Mr. Xi cannot be seen as giving in too much with trade concessions to the U.S. in fear of triggering comparisons to past “unequal treaties” forced on China in the 19th and 20th centuries. “Every country has important principles, and we will not make concessions on matters of principle,” Mr. Liu said.