The Trump administration plans to use new targeted tariffs to apply “maximum pressure” on China to stop it stealing the intellectual property of American business, according to the top US trade official.
With the White House expected to unveil proposed curbs on Chinese business as soon as today, Robert Lighthizer, US trade representative, also offered an olive branch to the EU and other allies, indicating they would not face immediate US tariffs on steel and aluminium imports while they were negotiating possible exemptions.
Washington is keen to enlist Europe, Japan and other trading partners in its fight against alleged Chinese trade abuses.
According to people familiar with its deliberations, the White House is expected to announce a plan to apply new tariffs on imports from China worth at least $30bn as soon as today, although US officials said the proposals remained in flux. The plan is also likely to involve a process for consultations with US business that may delay their implementation.
The Trump administration is also likely to flag up new restrictions on Chinese investment in the US and tighter visa requirements for Chinese nationals, although the details have yet to be decided.
Mr Lighthizer told members of Congress that the administration expected to hit certain Chinese technology products in sectors where Beijing has forced US companies to transfer intellectual property in order to do business in China. It also wants to target sectors in which the Chinese government is subsidising overseas acquisitions by its companies of strategic technologies.
“We think that it is perhaps the most important thing that will have been done in a long time in terms of rebalancing trade with China,” he said, pointing to the US’s $375bn trade deficit with Beijing.
But he said Washington was mindful of the potential impact on US households. His staff had used an algorithm to formulate penalties that would“put maximum pressure on China and minimum pressure on American consumers”. The prospect of tariffs on imports from China has drawn widespread criticism from the US business community and others worried about the prospect of Chinese retaliation leading to a trade war between the world’s two largest economies.
“Nobody wins from a trade war. We certainly don’t want a trade war,” Mr Lighthizer said.
But he added: “We have to do something?.?.?.?The reality is that if you are on a course that is unsustainable you have to do something to change.”
Business groups remain sceptical of the Trump administration’s plans, though many acknowledge that it is trying to tackle legitimate concerns.
“It’s unclear right now what the strategy is for using tariffs in this case,” said Erin Ennis, senior vice-president for the US-China Business Council.
“目前还不清楚在这件事上启用关税措施的战略是什么，”美中贸易全国委员会(US-China Business Council)高级副会长埃林?恩尼斯(Erin Ennis)表示。
“Companies want to see the problems that are identified in the case addressed?.?.?.?It’s just not clear how tariffs get you to fix that problem.”
Republicans in Congress are also deeply sceptical about the merits of tariffs.
Opening yesterday’s hearing with Mr Lighthizer, Kevin Brady, Republican chairman of the Houseways and means committee, said he was concerned that US trade policy was at a dangerouscrossroads.
The administration needed to choose between isolationism and global leadership, he added.
Mr Brady said China’s oversupply of steel and aluminium had “put many Americans out of work” and “its blatant theft of our companies’ technology and intellectual property can’t betolerated”. But he warned against “indiscriminate tariffs”.
“We must not punish American families and workers for China’s misbehaviour,” he said.