US steps up China trade spat with $200bn tariff threat

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The United States has listed $200 billion in Chinese export goods that could be hit with 10% tariffs as soon as September.The move escalates the trade war between the world’s two largest economies.

The list includes hundreds of food products as well as tobacco, coal, chemicals and tyres, dog and cat food, and consumer electronics.

President Donald Trump vowed to hit back after China retaliated for the first round of 25% tariffs on $34bn worth of imports that Washington imposed last week.

“For over a year, the Trump administration has patiently urged China to stop its unfair practices, open its market, and engage in true market competition,” US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said in announcing the proposed tariffs.

“Rather than address our legitimate concerns, China has begun to retaliate against US products … There is no justification for such action,” he said in a statement.

The US Trade Representative office will hold hearings on the targeted products and it is expected it will take about two months to finalise the list, at which point Mr Trump would decide whether to go ahead with the tariffs.

Mr Trump said last week that the US may ultimately impose tariffs on more than $500 billion worth of Chinese goods – roughly equivalent to the value of all US imports from China last year.

China has this morning said tit-for-tat tariffs will “destroy” US-China trade.

Some US business groups and senior politicians sharply criticised the latest action, with Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, a Republican, saying it “appears reckless and is not a targeted approach.”

The US Chamber of Commerce, which has supported Mr Trump’s tax cuts and efforts to reduce regulation of businesses, also criticised the administration’s move.

“Tariffs are taxes, plain and simple. Imposing taxes on another $200bn worth of products will raise the costs of every day goods for American families, farmers, ranchers, workers, and job creators. It will also result in retaliatory tariffs, further hurting American workers,” a  Chamber spokeswoman said.

The Retail Industry Leaders Association, a lobby group representing the largest US retailers, said: “The president has broken his promise to bring maximum pain on China, minimum pain on consumers.”

“American families are the ones being punished. Consumers, businesses and the American jobs dependent on trade, are left in the cross-hairs of an escalating global trade war”, said Hun Quach, the head of international trade policy for the group.

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