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TRADE TENSIONS

US ramps up trade row with China, threatens new tariffs

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The Trump administration raised the stakes in its trade dispute with China on Tuesday, saying it would slap 10 per cent tariffs on an extra US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports.

Washington

THE Trump administration raised the stakes in its trade dispute with China on Tuesday, saying it would slap 10 per cent tariffs on an extra US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports.

The news sent stocks tumbling, with China's markets leading the declines, and prompted a senior Chinese commerce ministry official to warn that the United States was harming the global trade order.

US officials released a list of thousands of Chinese imports the administration wants to hit with the new tariffs, including hundreds of food products as well as tobacco, chemicals, coal, steel and aluminium.

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It also includes consumer goods ranging from car tyres, furniture, wood products, handbags and suitcases, to dog and cat food, baseball gloves, carpets, doors, bicycles, skis, golf bags, toilet paper and beauty products.

"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.

Last week, Washington imposed 25 per cent tariffs on US$34 billion of Chinese imports, and Beijing responded immediately with matching tariffs on the same amount of US exports to China.

Investors fear an escalating trade war between the world's two biggest economies could hit global growth.

In financial markets, MSCI's broadest index of Asia-Pacific shares outside Japan fell 1.5 per cent, while the main indexes in Hong Kong and Shanghai fell more than 2 per cent.

S&P 500 and Dow futures dropped around one per cent, pointing to a weak opening on Wall Street later on Wednesday.

The onshore yuan tracked its offshore counterpart lower with traders closely watching the key 6.7 per US dollar level as pressure mounted on the currency.

President Donald Trump has said he may ultimately impose tariffs on more than US$500 billion worth of Chinese goods - roughly the total amount of US imports from China last year.

The new list published on Tuesday targets many more consumer goods than those covered under the tariffs imposed last week, raising the direct threat to consumers and retail firms.

The tariffs will not be imposed until after a two-month period of public comment on the proposed list, but some US business groups and senior lawmakers were quick to criticise the move.

Senate Finance Committee chairman Orrin Hatch, a senior member of Mr Trump's Republican Party, said the announcement "appears reckless and is not a targeted approach".

The US Chamber of Commerce has supported Mr Trump's domestic tax cuts and efforts to reduce regulation of businesses, but it has been critical of the president's aggressive tariff policies.

"Tariffs are taxes, plain and simple. Imposing taxes on another US$200 billion 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 crosshairs of an escalating global trade war," said Hun Quach, the head of international trade policy for the group.

Louis Kuijs, Hong Kong-based head of Asia economics at Oxford Economics, said while he expects China to strongly condemn the US moves, its policy response is likely to be limited for now.

"In part because they have only limited ammunition and in part because it's still early in the process on the US side," Mr Kuijs added. REUTERS

READ MORE: China says it won't back down in a trade war started by Trump