By Temitayo Ayetoto…
The Trump administration is considering clamping down on Chinese investments in the U.S. and imposing tariffs on a broad range of its imports to punish Beijing for its alleged theft of intellectual property, according to a Bloomberg report citing people familiar with the matter.
An announcement following an investigation by the U.S. Trade Representative’s office into China’s IP practices is expected in the coming weeks, potentially handing President Donald Trump further cause to impose trade restrictions.
His announcement last week of tariffs on steel and aluminum imports has already ratcheted up global trade tensions and led to the resignation Tuesday of his chief economic adviser Gary Cohn, who opposes such measures.
Trump tweeted he’ll be making a decision on a replacement soon and that there are “many people wanting the job.” The dollar fell and the yen — often a haven in turmoil — jumped as much as 0.6 percent to 105.46 per dollar, approaching a 16-month high set last week. Asian equities declined.
The president is now fighting trade offensives on multiple fronts, from targeting strategic rival China to angering allies like Canada and the European Union with threats to erect fresh barriers. While his counterparts have threatened retaliation, concrete action that would herald the start of an all-out trade war has yet to come.
Liu He, President Xi Jinping’s top economic adviser who met with Cohn in Washington last week, told delegates at the National People’s Congress in Beijing that both sides had expressed a desire to avoid a trade war, according to the Beijing Youth Daily.
Chinese officials, who have been studying curbs on U.S. products such as soybeans according to past reports, were otherwise largely quiet on the tariff question Wednesday.
Under the most severe scenario being weighed, the U.S. could impose tariffs on a wide range of Chinese imports, from shoes and clothing to consumer electronics, according to two people familiar with the matter who spoke on condition of anonymity because the discussions aren’t public.
The Trump administration could combine the tariffs with restrictions on Chinese investments in the U.S., which are reviewed for national-security risks by Treasury’s Committee on Foreign Investment in the U.S., the people said. The new measures being considered by the administration could go beyond even domestic security considerations.
“Gumming up the flow of trade, coming at a time of close to full employment for the U.S., tariffs are more likely to result in higher inflation than higher output,” Tom Orlik, chief Asia economist for Bloomberg Economics, wrote in a note. “For the U.S., there are plenty of reasons to avoid tipping relations with China into an all-out trade war. The damage that would inflict on U.S. firms’ supply chains, sticker shock for U.S. shoppers at Walmart and Target and the risk of higher inflation suggest cooler minds would eventually prevail.”
With the probe into China, known as a Section 301 action, U.S. officials are also considering a more targeted approach that would seek to rein in Chinese investments, the people said. The administration is looking at ways to enforce reciprocity with China on foreign investment, meaning the U.S. would only allow takeovers in sectors that U.S. companies can access in China, according to the people.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has urged closer vetting of foreign takeovers, and Republican lawmakers are pushing legislation aimed at curbing China’s influence.
U.S. officials are still examining various options, and USTR could decide to do nothing, the people said, adding that an announcement is expected next month.