Trade War Begins as China Tariffs Take Effect

Chinese President Xi Jinping attends the opening session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, March 3, 2018. (Damir Sagolj/Reuters)

U.S. tariffs against $34 billion in Chinese goods took effect Friday, serving as the opening volley in a trade war that many fear will disrupt the strong economic performance President Trump has enjoyed since taking office.

China responded immediately to the 25 percent tariffs, which took effect at 12:01 a.m., announcing they would implement their own, similarly-scaled tariffs on a number of unspecified American goods. Soy beans, sports utility vehicles and whiskey are among the American products expected to be hardest hit.

The U.S. “has launched the biggest trade war in economic history so far,” China’s Ministry of Commerce said in a statement.

President Trump has thus far been undeterred by widespread fears that the cumulative effect of the trade wars he is fighting against China, as well as North American and European allies, will have a deleterious effect on the stock market and the cost of consumer goods.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross communicated Trump’s commitment to a protectionist agenda Monday, telling CNBC hosts that a market downturn, regardless of size, will not cause the administration to abandon tariffs.

“There’s no bright-line level of the stock market that’s going to change policy,” Ross said. “The president is trying to fix long-term problems that should have been fixed a long time ago.”

Speaking to reporters on Air Force One Thursday, Trump continued to posture, vowing to follow up the tariffs with levies on some $16 billion in Chinese goods. He also threatened, once again, to slap tariffs on $450 billion in Chinese products — a figure that nearly represents the totality of Chinese exports to the U.S.

With no official talks between the countries planned, there is no clear exit strategy for the administration.

“At the moment, I don’t see how this ends,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations, told the New York Times. “This is very much in the president’s hands because he’s got advisers that seem divided, some substantively, some tactically. I just don’t think we’ve had any clear signs of the resolution he wants.”

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