Trade war fears grow

WASHINGTON – President Donald Trump will announce tariffs on Chinese imports on Thursday, a White House official said, in a move aimed at curbing theft of US technology and likely to trigger retaliation from Beijing and stoke fears of a global trade war.

There was no indication of the size and scope of the tariffs, which US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said on Wednesday would target China’s high-technology sector and could also include restrictions on Chinese investments in the US.

Other sectors such as apparel could also be hit.

“Tomorrow the president will announce the actions he has decided to take based on USTR’s 301 investigation into China’s state-led, market-distorting efforts to force, pressure, and steal US technologies and intellectual property,” the official said.

The White House said Mr Trump would sign a presidential memorandum “targeting China’s economic aggression” at 12:30 p.m. (1630 GMT) on Thursday.

The investigation by the US under Section 301 of the 1974 Trade Act has identified theft from and coercion of US companies to disclose their intellectual property as well as purchases by Chinese state funds of US companies for their technology knowledge.

Mr Lighthizer told the House of Representatives Ways and Means Committee, a top economic panel, that the aim would be to minimise the impact of any tariffs on US consumers.

China has threatened to retaliate by hitting US agricultural exports if tariffs on Chinese imports worth up to $US60 billion ($F121b) are announced by Washington.

“The remedies, in my judgment at least, would be one, doing something on the tariff front, and two, doing something on the investment front, and then perhaps other things,” said Mr Lighthizer, a lawyer and veteran trade negotiator.

The US runs a hefty goods trade deficit with China of $US375b ($F766b). Estimates of the cost of counterfeit goods, pirated software and theft of trade secrets could be as high as $US600b ($F1.2 trillion), according to one study.

Talk of a global trade war emerged earlier this month when Mr Trump announced hefty tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, aimed at hitting Chinese overproduction, but which could also affect key allies like members of the European Union.