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Trump Hits China With Tariffs On $50 Billion Of Goods; China Says It Will Retaliate

After announcing the new import taxes, President Trump spoke to reporters outside the White House on Friday.
Evan Vucci
After announcing the new import taxes, President Trump spoke to reporters outside the White House on Friday.

Updated at 3:57 a.m. ET Saturday

President Trump is enacting a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion of Chinese goods "that contain industrially significant technologies," after months of exchanging threats amid concerns over a potential trade war.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection will begin to collect tariffs on the first $34 billion worth of Chinese imports on July 6. A second set of imports subject to tariffs is still under review.

China quickly announced it would impose retaliatory tariffs of the same size.

The White House had set a June 15 deadline for announcing the full list of items that will see a tariff imposed, focusing on areas such as aerospace, robotics and machinery. Released Friday, the list includes some 1,100 products.

Trump announced Friday:

"My great friendship with President Xi of China and our country's relationship with China are both very important to me. Trade between our nations, however, has been very unfair, for a very long time. This situation is no longer sustainable. China has, for example, long been engaging in several unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology."

China said it would impose 25 percent tariffs starting the same day — July 6 — on about $34 billion worth of U.S. products, including types of meat, seafood, dairy products, beans, nuts and cars.

The Chinese commerce ministry said it would add another $16 billion worth of other U.S. products including coal, crude oil, gasoline and other chemicals as well as medical equipment to its list of taxed imports at a later date.

"China doesn't want a trade war," China's foreign ministry spokesperson Lu Kang said Friday in a statement. "However, confronted by such short-sighted act that hurts both US itself and others, China has no choice but to fight back forcefully, to firmly safeguard the interests of the nation and its people and uphold economic globalization and the multilateral trading system."

China had earlier threatened to retaliate forcefully for any tariffs, listing U.S. products that range from sorghum, soybeans, meat and whiskey to airplanes and cars.

China buys some $14 billion in U.S.-produced soybeans every year — nearly a third of the American crop.

The Chinese commerce ministry issued another statement on Friday accusing the U.S. of being fickle and shortsighted and warning that a trade war between the two economic giants would have global repercussions.

In an impromptu session with reporters outside the White House on Friday morning, Trump acknowledged that China might not be happy with the move, adding that his administration is imposing the tariffs "because we have to, because we've been treated very unfairly."

It's the latest round of tariffs imposed by the Trump administration, which hit U.S. allies Mexico, Canada and the European Union with a round of taxes on steel and aluminum imports in May. Trump cited the interests of national security as the motivation behind that move.

When asked about Trump's trade tactics, former Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez told NPR's Steve Inskeep:

"That's where our trading partners and the rest of the world are just very frustrated and very confused because tactics change on a day-to-day basis. Tactics aren't as uniform as a strategy. And that's what has our trading partners so unnerved. This will be a disappointment for China. China will retaliate and we will be at the beginning of a very nasty trade war if we proceed with this today."

The U.S. Trade Representative's office said Friday that the tariffs to go into effect July 6 do not affect "goods commonly purchased by American consumers such as cellular telephones or televisions."

The second list ranges from chemicals and plastics to motorcycles and technical equipment worth some $16 billion.

Since Trump first mentioned the tariffs in March, the White House has sent mixed messages on the plan — and it has also sent envoys to China and received Chinese representatives as the two countries' trade and finance officials negotiated.

As he made the U.S. tariffs official, Trump said that "if China engages in retaliatory measures, such as imposing new tariffs on United States goods, services, or agricultural products," his administration would respond with additional tariffs.

The dispute has played out as businesses, farmers and consumers watch to see which of the products they rely on could be affected by a trade war. The trade representative says that after it asked for public comment on its initial list of 1,333 products that were proposed for the additional duty in April, it received some 3,200 responses.

After news of the American tariffs broke on Friday, National Association of Manufacturers President and CEO Jay Timmons released a statement calling for a bilateral trade agreement.

"Manufacturers certainly have concerns that tariffs will cause more problems than they solve, but we also recognize that the administration may intend to use them as a negotiating tactic to bring China to the table and achieve larger goals," Timmons said. "A trade war never benefits anyone, so rather than pursuing a piecemeal tariffs approach, now is the time to seize the opportunity before us and work toward a U.S.-China trade agreement that will benefit American workers for generations to come."

Progress to avert a back-and-forth of new import taxes seemed to be made in late May, after China agreed to cut tariffs on U.S. automobiles, and Trump pledged support for ZTE, a Chinese company affected negatively by U.S. sanctions, as NPR's Camila Domonoske reported.

America's trade in goods with China topped $635 billion in 2017, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In that year, the U.S. says its goods trade deficit with China was $375.2 billion.

As for the Trump administration's efforts to prevent the burgeoning China from establishing dominance in some industries, Gutierrez told NPR, "I think it's an ironic goal. You know, we are the world's greatest free market. We have espoused the benefits of capitalism, of free trade, of open markets to the whole world. We've asked them to reach, we've told them it's good for their people. And now China wants to be a major player."

The White House announced the tariffs one day after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo visited Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing for talks that were described as focusing on Trump's recent meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

NPR's James Doubek and Sam Hoisington contributed to this report.

Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.