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Asia: Markets fall on new trade worries in thinned business

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[HONG KONG] Hong Kong led a sell-off in Asian markets during holiday-thinned business Monday as trade tensions burst back on the scene with China and the US preparing to impose fresh tariffs and reports saying Beijing has pulled out of planned talks.

The recent optimism in the US economy that saw equities rack up healthy gains over the past two weeks was replaced by fresh concerns about the impact of a standoff between the world's top two economies.

Hong Kong bore the brunt of the selling, giving up more than one per cent, while Sydney fell 0.1 per cent and Wellington shed 0.6 per cent.

However, volumes were low with Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul and Taipei all closed for public holidays.

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Media reports said Chinese officials had called off a trip to the US for fresh talks on averting an all-out trade war and the two sides were unlikely to meet up before the US mid-term elections in November.

The news comes as Washington prepares to impose 10 per cent duties on another US$200 billion of Chinese goods Monday, with China lining up US$60 billion of imports in retaliation.

While the measures are a significant step up in the row - the US will be taxing about half the goods it imports from China once the new tariffs are imposed - traders took the low rates as a sign they could reach a deal eventually.

However, uncertainty is dogging trading floors.

"Make no mistake, this will be a bumpy ride and don't underestimate the possibility of the US announcing reviews of further China tariffs at some point in time given the Trump administration 'modus operandi' of applying non-stop pressure," said Stephen Innes, head of Asia-Pacific trading at Oanda.

On currency markets the pound struggled to recover after suffering deep losses Friday after British Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit plan was brushed off by EU officials and she said talks were "at an impasse".

The dollar also rose against most emerging market and high-yielding units after they enjoyed a much-needed boost last week. The South Korean won, Indonesian rupiah, South African rand and Mexican peso were down between 0.2 and 0.4 per cent.

Oil surged more than one percent after the world's top producers decided to maintain output during a meeting in Algeria at the weekend, in an apparent rebuff to pressure from Donald Trump to lower prices.

A committee comprised of Opec and non-Opec producers said it was satisfied with the current market outlook, which represented "an overall healthy balance between supply and demand".

AFP