WASHINGTON/BEIJING: China condemned the United States on Wednesday as the Trump administration pushed ahead with plans to slap tariffs on about $50 billion of Chinese industrial and hi-tech products, and vowed imminent countermeasures in the escalating trade dispute.
The US government hours earlier unveiled a detailed breakdown of some 1,300 Chinese industrial, transport and medical goods that could be subject to 25 per cent duties, ranging from light-emitting diodes to chemicals and machine parts.
The move, broadly flagged last month, is aimed at forcing Beijing to address what Washington says is deeply entrenched theft of US intellectual property and forced technology transfer from US companies to Chinese competitors, charges Chinese officials deny.
China’s Commerce Ministry said in a statement that it “will soon take measures of equal intensity and scale against US goods”, and Beijing’s ambassador to the World Trade Organization, Zhang Xiangchen, urged members to “join with China in firmly resisting US protectionism”.
The ministry did not reveal any specific countermeasures, but economists widely view imports of US soybeans, aircraft and machinery as prime targets for retaliation.
The trade showdown between the world’s largest economies has fueled market fears that they could spiral into a trade war, crushing global growth.
The sense of uncertainty persisted on Wednesday, with MSCI’s broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan flickering between positive and negative territory, though Chinese shares rose on hopes that final measures will be watered down after negotiations.
The tariff list from the office of US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer followed China’s imposition of tariffs on $3 billion worth of US fruits, nuts, pork and wine to protest new US steel and aluminum tariffs imposed last month by Trump.
Publication of the list starts a public comment and consultation period expected to last around two months.
Many consumer electronics products such as cellphones made by Apple Inc and laptops made by Dell were excluded, as were footwear and clothing, drawing a sigh of relief from retailers who had feared higher costs for American consumers.
A US industry source said the list was somewhat unexpected in that it largely exempts major consumer grade technology products, one of China’s major export categories to the United States.
“The tech industry will feel like overall it dodged a bullet,” the source said, but added that traditional industrial goods manufacturers, along with pharmaceuticals and medical device firms could suffer.
Many US business groups support Trump’s efforts to stop the theft of US intellectual property, but have questioned whether tariffs are the right approach. They warn that disruption to supply chains that rely on Chinese components will ultimately raise costs for consumers.
“Tariffs are one proposed response, but they are likely to create new challenges in the form of significant added costs for manufacturers and American consumers,” National Association of Manufacturers President Jay Timmons said in a statement.
USTR developed the tariff targets using a computer algorithm designed to choose products that would inflict maximum pain on Chinese exporters, but limit the damage to US consumers.
A USTR official said the list got an initial scrub by removing products identified as likely to cause disruptions to the US economy and those that needed to be excluded for legal reasons. — Reuters