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US Weighs New China Tariff Probe If Trade Talks Collapse

US is also considering other options, including working with allies to present a united front to Beijing in demanding a level playing field for global firms

US China trade
US trade data on Tuesday revealed a massive shortfall in China's commitment to increase US purchases under former US president Donald Trump's "Phase 1" trade deal implemented two years ago. Photo: Reuters.


The US administration is considering a new China tariff probe if current talks fail to persuade Beijing to follow through on its promised purchases of US goods, energy and services, officials from America’s largest business lobbying group said on Wednesday.

Washington is also considering working more closely with US allies to present a united front to Beijing in demanding a level playing field for international firms, Myron Brilliant, the US Chamber of Commerce‘s head of international affairs, said.

US trade data on Tuesday revealed a massive shortfall in China’s commitment to increase US purchases under former US president Donald Trump’s “Phase 1” trade deal implemented two years ago.

China met less than 60% of its purchasing goal, failing to make good on its promise to increase US purchases by $200 billion above 2017 levels during 2020 and 2021 – a two-year period disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic and supply chain bottlenecks.

Brilliant said the Chamber supports the Biden administration’s talks with Chinese officials to hold them to the Phase 1 commitments.

“But should those talks not succeed in meeting the terms of the agreement, then I do think there are vehicles by which the administration can consider taking further action,” Brilliant said.

“The administration is considering a range of options, and we’re not endorsing any of these options at this time, that could include obviously a 301 action and issues like that.”


Unfair Trade Practices

The Trump administration used Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, a statute aimed at combating trade partners’ unfair practices, to launch tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars in Chinese imports in 2018 and 2019.

A new Section 301 probe could take a year before any new tariffs or other trade actions are recommended.

Brilliant said that based on his consultations with the administration, any actions would not involve tariffs in the short term.

“They recognize that the tariffs in place are putting pressure on American companies and therefore American workers, and they need to address that piece, despite the challenges presented by China’s lack of enforcement of the Phase 1 deal,”

John Murphy, who directs trade policy advocacy for the Chamber, said that pressure was mounting from industry for a more robust tariff exclusion process for Chinese goods than the limited version proposed by USTR.

A spokesperson for the US Trade Representative’s office could not immediately be reached for comment. In announcing her China trade strategy last October, top US trade negotiator Katherine Tai did not rule out new tariff actions.

Brilliant said that any actions that the Biden administration takes should be done in consultation with the business community and with US allies.

“Any action against China that isn’t done in a multilateral way, isn’t worked out with Europe and with our friends in Asia, will not be as productive,” he said.

China, meanwhile, has not got into the debate over its failure to meet purchases under the Phase-1 trade deal.

Gao Feng, a spokesman for the Ministry of Commerce, said they hoped that the United States would “remove additional tariffs on Chinese goods and end its sanctions and crackdowns as soon as possible to create conditions for trade cooperation”.

The remarks were made at a regular briefing on Thursday.


  • Reuters with additional editing by Jim Pollard






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Jim Pollard

Jim Pollard is an Australian journalist based in Thailand since 1999. He worked for News Ltd papers in Sydney, Perth, London and Melbourne before travelling through SE Asia in the late 90s. He was a senior editor at The Nation for 17+ years and has a family in Bangkok.


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