President Donald Trump pushed back against an escalation with the Asian superpower, saying on Twitter that "we are not in a trade war with China, that war was lost many years ago by the foolish, or incompetent, people who represented the U.S".
China on Wednesday targeted 106 US goods for import tariffs - including important USA agriculture exports such as soybeans - after the Trump administration a day earlier released a list of 1,300 categories of Chinese goods the USA plans to impose tariffs on. The senior USA official told Reuters late last night that as trade tensions between the two nations escalated, no formal negotiating sessions have been set.
China is also the world's largest auto market, and Trump had been seeking greater access for American automakers, which already faced a 25 per cent tariff. A full-fledged trade war could slow global commerce.
Beijing's announcement followed Washington's publishing of a list of 50 billion dollars worth of Chinese imports that could be subject to punitive tariffs. That was in response to the release by the U.S. of a list of proposed tariffs a day earlier, covering $50 billion in Chinese products. Only about one-tenth of China's goods exports to the United States would be affected.
Trump's unexpected move threatens to unravel efforts by top U.S. and Chinese trade officials to lower the heat and reach an agreement that could stave off an escalating conflict, after the release of a list of tariff targets earlier this week prompted immediate threats of retaliation from Beijing.
China needed to respond to any protectionist measures from the United States, said RaboResearch senior economist Hugo Erken.
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"Even though the numbers between China and the USA are comparable, it seems clear that China is trying to twist the knife", he said, "This is a warning that 'we are willing to fight harder and inflict more pain that you are'". Eli Lustgarten, industrial outlook consultant at ESL Consultants, St Louis, said he was more concerned about the impact to food commodity exports, which would hurt Deere's US farm customers, than farm equipment exports. And already, tensions between the world's two biggest economies have rattled global stock markets.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross testifies before a House Committee on Appropriation subcommittee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, March 20, 2018. "If the U.S. wants to negotiate, we would like to negotiate with them on the basis of equality, mutual respect and mutual benefit". That could spell additional pain for USA carmakers like Tesla Inc., which makes all of its vehicles in the US and will rely on exports to China for 9% of revenue this year, according to Robert W. Baird & Co. analyst Ben Kallo. China's envoy to the World Trade Organization, Zhang Xiangchen, called it "an intentional and gross violation of the WTO's fundamental principles of nondiscrimination and bound tariffs".
The big worry on Wall Street is that corporate profits and sales will be hurt if trade restrictions are put in place, which would be negative for stock prices.
Some analysts including Mizuho's Jeremy Scott saw a silver lining for meat producers though as soybean supply could be stranded on the USA market. The U.S. shipped some 33 million tonnes. Boeing (BA) closed 1% lower, after an early drop of more than 6%.
But, he said, "at the end of the day, China's unfair and illegal trading actions are damaging to economic growth, for the USA, for China and for the rest of the world".
The USTR's "Section 301" investigation authorizing the tariffs alleges China has systematically sought to misappropriate US intellectual property through joint venture requirements that often can not be negotiated without technology transfers, something China denies. The 25% tariffs come on top of any existing levies. China also has a separate development strategy for artificial intelligence, published previous year.