WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Friday threatened to hit Beijing with tariffs on an additional $267 billion in goods, a move that would expand the growing trade war to cover virtually everything the United States imports from China.
Speaking to reporters on Air Force One, Trump said his administration has another new round of tariffs ready and that he’s prepared to impose them “on short notice.”
Those penalties, if applied, would come on top of tariffs the administration has already implemented on roughly $53 billion in Chinese imports and on another $200 billion that could be imposed in the coming days.
“The $200 billion we’re talking about could take place very soon,” Trump said, indicating he might be open to some sort of a negotiated solution if Beijing were willing to make concessions. “To a certain extent, it’s going to be up to China.”
Then he added: “I hate to say that, but behind that, there’s another $267 billion ready to go on short notice if I want. That totally changes the equation.”
A public comment period on Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods formally ended Friday, clearing the way for Trump to make good on the threat. Typically, the administration would be expected to complete an analysis of the thousands of public comments it received before imposing the threatened duties but the president seems eager to proceed on those levies. “It’s in the hopper,” Trump told reporters.
It’s possible that Trump might not hit all $200 billion at once and that he could impose high tariffs on some goods and lower tariffs on others, trade experts said.
Imposing tariffs on an additional $267 billion in goods from China — on top of the roughly $253 billion that have already been imposed or are pending — would mean virtually all current imports from China would be caught in the crossfire, including consumer goods like cellphones and televisions. Trump‘s comments Friday seemed to indicate that he was prepared to put in place the duties on the additional amount without any new public input or comment period.
The president’s threat elicited a strong reaction from industry groups already caught in the cross-fire in his feud with Beijing.
“The notion that the president is going to add an extra $267 billion worth of tariffs is grossly irresponsible and possibly illegal,“ Jose Castaneda, a spokesman for the Information Technology Industry Council, said in a statement. “While we cannot overstate the potential economic harm of such a decision, we also question whether the administration has done the necessary investigation of Chinese policies and practices to justify this level of tariffs under the Section 301 statute. We urge the administration to clearly explain how Section 301 allows it to take such action.”
The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, which conducted the investigation that gave Trump the legal authority to impose duties on China, referred questions about Trump’s latest remarks to the White House. A White House spokeswoman was not immediately available to clarify Trump’s remarks.
White House chief economic adviser Larry Kudlow said the administration would continue to talk with the Chinese, but so far Beijing has balked at U.S. demands.
“We want lower barriers across the board. You know, zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers, zero subsidies, stop the [intellectual property] theft, stop the technology transfer, allow Americans to own their own companies,” Kudlow said in an interview on CNBC. “Those have been our asks for many months, and so far those asks haven’t been satisfied. However, hope springs eternal, and discussions continue.”
Beijing has so far responded in kind with retaliatory tariffs on an equivalent $53 billion in U.S. exports to China. The U.S. exported about $130 billion to China last year. Much of China’s retaliation has been aimed at U.S. agricultural goods, a move copied by the European Union, Canada and Mexico in their retaliation against Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs.
Trump has tried to soften the blow with a multibillion-dollar aid package for farmers, but many Democrats say they are unsure that he has a clear strategy and end game for resolving the many trade fights he has started around the world.
The president made his latest threat en route to a fundraiser for Representative Kevin Cramer, a North Dakota Republican who is in a tight race to unseat Democratic Senator Heidi Heitkamp in the November election.
“Today’s threat to escalate the trade war is a threat to North Dakota farmers,” Heitkamp said in a statement. “I’ve long pushed to hold China accountable for its trade violations, but we can’t do it on the backs of hardworking North Dakotans.”
Free-market Republicans also recoiled at Trump’s latest threat, saying it put at risk the good work the administration has done by cutting taxes and reducing regulations.
“We urge the administration not to lose sight of the farmers, manufacturers, and small businesses across the country who are getting crushed by this misguided trade war,” Tim Phillips, president of Americans for Prosperity said in a statement. “Imposing steep tariffs and bailing out select industries with government subsidies isn’t how you punish China; it’s how you become China. Americans don’t want government handouts, they want free trade and open markets.”