Trade War PHOTO

China slams US “blackmailing” as Trump issues new trade threat

US President Donald Trump threatened to impose a 10 percent tariff on $200 billion of Chinese goods and Beijing warned it would retaliate, in a rapid escalation of the trade conflict between the world’s two biggest economies.

Trump’s latest move, as Washington fights trade battles on several fronts, was unexpectedly swift and sharp.

It was retaliation, he said, for China’s decision to raise tariffs on $50 billion in US goods, which came after Trump announced similar tariffs on Chinese goods on Friday.

“After the legal process is complete, these tariffs will go into effect if China refuses to change its practices, and also if it insists on going forward with the new tariffs that it has recently announced,” Trump said in a statement on Monday.

The comments sent global stock markets skidding and weakened both the dollar and the Chinese yuan on Tuesday. Shanghai stocks plunged to two-year lows.

China’s commerce ministry said Beijing will fight back with “qualitative” and “quantitative” measures if the United States publishes an additional list of tariffs on Chinese goods.

“Such a practice of extreme pressure and blackmailing deviates from the consensus reached by both sides on multiple occasions,” the ministry said in a statement.

“The United States has initiated a trade war and violated market regulations, and is harming the interests of not just the people of China and the US, but of the world.”

US business groups said members were bracing for a backlash from the Chinese government that would affect all American firms in China, not just in sectors facing tariffs.

Jacob Parker, vice president of China operations at the US-China Business Council in Beijing, said China would undoubtedly “begin looking at other ways to enforce action against U.S companies that are operating in the market.”

Some companies have reported Beijing is meeting with Chinese businesses to discuss shifting contracts for US goods and services to suppliers from Europe or Japan, or to local Chinese firms, Parker said.

Washington and Beijing appeared increasingly headed toward open trade conflict after several rounds of talks failed to resolve US complaints over Chinese industrial policies, lack of market access in China and a $375 billion US trade deficit.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said his office was preparing the proposed tariffs and they would undergo a similar legal process as previous ones, which were subject to a public comment period, a public hearing and some revisions. He did not say when the new target list would be unveiled.

“As China hawks, like Lighthizer and (Peter) Navarro, appear to have gained power within the Trump administration lately, an all-out trade war now seems more inevitable,” said Yasunari Ueno, chief market analyst at Mizuho Securities in Japan.

Tit-For-Tat

On Friday, Trump said he was pushing ahead with a 25 percent tariff on $50 billion worth of Chinese products, prompting Beijing to respond in kind.

Some of those tariffs will be applied from July 6, while the White House is expected to announce restrictions on investments by Chinese companies in the United States by June 30.

“China apparently has no intention of changing its unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology. Rather than altering those practices, it is now threatening United States companies, workers, and farmers who have done nothing wrong,” Trump said.

Trump said if China increases its tariffs again in response to the latest US move, “we will meet that action by pursuing additional tariffs on another $200 billion of goods.”

Trump said he has “an excellent relationship” with Chinese President Xi Jinping and they “will continue working together on many issues.”

But, he said, “the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”

Cooling Chinese Economy

The intensifying trade row threatens to put more pressure on the already cooling Chinese economy, risking an end to a rare spell of synchronized global expansion and collateral damage for its export-reliant Asian neighbours.

China’s central bank unexpectedly injected 200 billion yuan ($31 billion) in medium-term funds into the banking system on Tuesday in a move analysts said reflected concerns about liquidity but also the potential economic drag from a full-blown trade war.

China imported $129.89 billion of US goods last year, while the US purchased $505.47 billion of Chinese products, according to US data.

Derek Scissors, a China scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a Washington think tank, said that means China will soon run out of imports of US goods on which to impose retaliatory tariffs.

China was unlikely change its industrial policies in response to the US trade threats, he said. That could take a long and painful trade fight.

“As I’ve said from the beginning, China will back off its industrial plans only when US trade measures are large and lasting enough to threaten the influx of foreign exchange. Not due to announcements,” he said. – Reuters

Maritime Trade PHOTO

The calm before the storm in International Trade?

A narrowing in the trade deficit in back-to-back months means good things for Q2 GDP, but this report is not yet capturing the extent of the steel and aluminum tariffs and survey data about trade is signaling a warning.

Trade Poised to Boost Second Quarter GDP

As the second quarter began, the U.S. trade deficit narrowed as exports increased 0.3 percent while imports declined 0.2 percent in April. After having widened for six consecutive months and now having narrowed in back-to-back months, trade is positioned to be additive to GDP in the second quarter, perhaps substantially so.

Our latest forecast published earlier today (prior to this morning’s trade report) looks for trade to add seven tenths of a percentage point to headline GDP in the second quarter. If that is indeed the contribution from net exports, it would mark the biggest quarterly boost to GDP from trade in more than four years.

Given the preoccupation that financial markets have had with tariffs and the potential for a broader trade war, might the flattering trade numbers be a salve for worried markets that there is nothing to fear in protectionist trade policies? Not so fast, keep in mind that this data is only through April and the broader extension of tariffs to our NAFTA trading partners and Europe was not effective until June. So the only impact observable for those countries in today’s report (and next month’s as well) would be to the extent that those countries scaled back in anticipation of eventual tariffs.

It is also useful to remember that international trade figures evolve with long lead times and a glacial pace. It takes a long time to build trust, relationships and global payment infrastructure between trading partners, and it remains to be seen if those bonds can be broken down more quickly. On that basis, it is unclear how long the shadow of tariffs will be cast on trade dynamics in coming years.

Steel and Aluminum Imports

If there is a storm coming, this might be the calm before it. Imports of iron and steel mill products increased $228 million in April alone and have increased more in the first four months of 2018 than they did in the same period of 2017. Meanwhile imports of bauxite and aluminum increased $44 million in the month. In the first four months of the year, the United States has imported better than half a billion dollars (or roughly 20 percent) more in bauxite and aluminum products than it did during the same period in 2017.

Softening in the Soft Data

U.S. manufacturers still report expansion in both exports and imports, but not to as broad an extent as they were just a few months ago. In the past three months, the ISM imports component has slipped 6.4 points, the largest slowing over a 3-month period since 2014, and the ISM exports component has come down 7.2 points, the biggest 3-month slowdown for this series since 2012.