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China raises tariffs on U.S. pork, fruit in trade dispute

  • ASSOCIATED PRESS

    A man pushes a shopping cart past a display of nuts imported from the United States and other countries at a supermarket in Beijing today.

BEIJING >> China raised import duties on a $3 billion list of U.S. pork, fruit and other products today in an escalating tariff dispute with President Donald Trump that companies worry might depress global commerce.

The Finance Ministry said it was responding to a U.S. tariff hike on steel and aluminum that took effect March 23. But a bigger clash looms over Trump’s approval of possible higher duties on nearly $50 billion of Chinese goods in a separate argument over technology policy.

The tariff spat is one aspect of wide-ranging tensions between Washington and Beijing over China’s multibillion-dollar trade surplus with the United States and its policies on technology, industry development and access to its state-dominated economy.

Forecasters say the immediate impact should be limited, but investors worry the global recovery might be set back if it prompts other governments to raise import barriers. Those fears temporarily depressed financial markets, though stocks have recovered some of their losses.

Today, stock market indexes in Tokyo and Shanghai were up 0.5 percent at midmorning.

Beijing faces complaints by Washington, the European Union and other trading partners that it hampers market access despite its free-trading pledges and is flooding global markets with improperly low-priced steel and aluminum. But the EU, Japan and other governments criticized Trump’s unilateral move as disruptive.

The United States buys little Chinese steel and aluminum following earlier tariff hikes to offset what Washington says is improper subsidies. Still, economists expected Beijing to respond to avoid looking weak in a high-profile dispute.

Effective today, Beijing raised tariffs on pork, aluminum scrap and some other products by 25 percent, the Finance Ministry said. A 15 percent tariff was imposed on apples, almonds and some other goods.

The tariff hike has “has seriously damaged our interests,” said a Finance Ministry statement.

“Our country advocates and supports the multilateral trading system,” said the statement. China’s tariff increase “is a proper measure adopted by our country using World Trade Organization rules to protect our interests.”

The White House didn’t respond to a message from The Associated Press on Sunday seeking comment.

China’s government said earlier its imports of those goods last year totaled $3 billion.

The latest Chinese move targets farm areas, many of which voted for Trump in the 2016 presidential election.

U.S. farmers sent nearly $20 billion of goods to China in 2017. The American pork industry sent $1.1 billion in products, making China the No. 3 market for U.S. pork.

“American politicians better realize sooner rather than later that China would never submit if the U.S. launched a trade war,” said the Global Times, a newspaper published by the ruling Communist Party.

Washington granted EU, South Korea and some other exporters, but not ally Japan, exemptions to the steel and aluminum tariffs on March 22. European governments had threatened to retaliate by raising duties on American bourbon, peanut butter and other goods.

Beijing has yet to say how it might respond to Trump’s March 22 order approving possible tariff hikes in response to complaints China steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology.

Trump ordered U.S. trade officials to bring a WTO case challenging Chinese technology licensing. It proposed 25 percent tariffs on Chinese products including aerospace, communications technology and machinery and said Washington will step up restrictions on Chinese investment in key U.S. technology sectors.

Trump administration officials have identified as potential targets 1,300 product lines worth about $48 billion. That list will then be open to a 30-day comment period for businesses.

Beijing reported a trade surplus of $275.8 billion with the United States last year, or two-thirds of its global total. Washington reports different figures that put the gap at a record $375.2 billion.

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