THE RETALIATORY 25% tariffs imposed on 128 US imports from frozen pork to specific fruit and nuts worth a total of some $3 billion are carefully chosen. They mainly target products for which China is a principal market for US producers.
However, they are also a relatively mild retort to the tariffs imposed by the United States on steel and aluminium imports last month. The bigger concern is how Beijing will respond to the already announced but unspecified second set of tariffs that Washington has announced on $60 billion worth of Chinese exports in retaliation for alleged theft by Chinese companies of US technology and intellectual property.
“China has yet to unsheathe its sword,” state media commented.
The Trump administration is expected to announce the details of the second set of tariffs sometime this week ahead of Friday’s deadline.
For its first round of retaliatory tariffs, Beijing is acting under World Trade Organization rules that let countries impose tariffs to compensate for another country’s export restrictions. Hence Beijing’s use of the phrase in announcing its tariffs that they were ‘in order to safeguard China’s interests’, the necessary WTO condition that needs to be complied with in such circumstances.
Beijing is also arguing that the tariffs, which Washington imposed on national security, not market disruption grounds, contravene WTO rules.
Trump has attacked the WTO in a tweet, but at the same time, the US is pushing its technology transfer misappropriation claims through the global trade organization’s disputes procedures.
This Bystander remembers how in the 1980s when it was Japan not China that was going to take over the world and eclipse the American century, that the United States waved the big stick of tariffs and then negotiated a settlement with Tokyo for voluntary Japanese export restraints.
The problem with that approach today is that it might reduce a bilateral trade imbalance, but it does little for solving technology transfer issues when both sides are fighting an existential battle to dominate the industrial future which will turn on control of technologies.