WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump signed an order Thursday that paves the way for imposing tariffs on as much as $60 billion worth of Chinese imports to punish Beijing for what he said is the theft of American technology and Chinese pressure on U.S. companies to hand it over.
“It is the largest deficit of any country in the history of our world,” Trump said of the U.S.-China trade imbalance, blaming it for lost American jobs.
He said his action would make the country stronger and richer.
China has already warned that it will take “all necessary measures” to defend itself, raising the prospect of a trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.
The White House said Thursday that Trump would direct the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to publish a list of proposed tariffs for public comment within 15 days. USTR has already identified potential targets: 1,300 product lines worth about $48 billion. The president is also asking Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to come up with a list of restrictions on Chinese investment.
Financial markets skidded Thursday on the risk of growing commercial conflict between the U.S. and China and the possibility that China will impose retaliatory tariffs on U.S. products. Dozens of industry groups sent a letter last weekend to Trump warning that “the imposition of sweeping tariffs would trigger a chain reaction of negative consequences for the U.S. economy, provoking retaliation; stifling U.S. agriculture, goods, and services exports, and raising costs for businesses and consumers.”
The administration moves on Thursday mark the end of a seven-month U.S. investigation into the hardball tactics China has used to challenge U.S. supremacy in technology, including, the U.S. says, dispatching hackers to steal commercial secrets and demanding that U.S. companies hand over trade secrets in exchange for access to the Chinese market. The administration argues that years of negotiations with China have failed to produce results.
“It could be a watershed moment,” said Stephen Ezell, vice president of global innovation policy at the Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, a think tank. “The Trump administration’s decision to go down this path is illustrative that previous strategies have not borne the hoped-for fruit.”
Business groups mostly agree that something needs to be done about China’s aggressive push in technology — but they worry that China will retaliate by targeting U.S. exports of aircraft, soybeans and other products and start a tit-for-tat trade war of escalating sanctions between the world’s two biggest economies.
Read more: Trump signs order punishing China on trade