China accuses Trump of ‘blackmail’ after new tariffs threat

China has so far targeted major American exports to China such as soybeans, above, which brought in $14 billion in sales last year. (AFP)
Updated 19 June 2018
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China accuses Trump of ‘blackmail’ after new tariffs threat

  • Donald Trump asked the US Trade Representative to target $200 billion worth of imports for a 10 percent levy, citing China’s ‘unacceptable’ move to raise its own tariffs.
  • China had offered to ramp up purchases of American goods by $70 billion to help cut its yawning trade surplus with the United States, whereas Trump had demanded a $200 billion deficit cut

BEIJING: Beijing on Tuesday accused Donald Trump of “blackmail” and warned it would retaliate in kind after the US president threatened to impose fresh tariffs on Chinese goods, pushing the world’s two biggest economies closer to a trade war.
Trump said on Monday he had asked the US Trade Representative to target $200 billion worth of imports for a 10 percent levy, citing China’s “unacceptable” move to raise its own tariffs.
He added he would identify an extra $200 billion of goods — for a possible total of $450 billion, or most Chinese imports — “if China increases its tariffs yet again.”
“Further action must be taken to encourage China to change its unfair practices, open its market to United States goods and accept a more balanced trade relationship with the United States,” Trump said in a statement.
Last week, he announced 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese imports, prompting Beijing to retaliate with matching duties on US goods.
The US leader warned Friday of “additional tariffs” should Beijing hit back with tit-for-tat measures.
“The trade relationship between the United States and China must be much more equitable,” he said in explaining his latest decision.
“I have an excellent relationship with President Xi (Jinping), and we will continue working together on many issues. But the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”
China’s commerce ministry immediately responded by saying the US “practice of extreme pressure and blackmail departed from the consensus reached by both sides during multiple negotiations and has also greatly disappointed international society.”
“If the US acts irrationally and issues a list, China will have no choice but to take comprehensive measures of a corresponding number and quality and take strong, powerful countermeasures.”
The news hit stock markets in Asia, where Shanghai shed three percent in the morning, Hong Kong lost more than two percent and Tokyo was one percent lower.
Trump is moving forward with the measures after months of sometimes fraught shuttle diplomacy in which Chinese offers to purchase more American goods failed to assuage his grievances over a widening trade imbalance and China’s aggressive industrial development policies.
China had offered to ramp up purchases of American goods by $70 billion to help cut its yawning trade surplus with the United States, whereas Trump had demanded a $200 billion deficit cut.
The China trade offensive is only one side of Trump’s multi-front battle with the United States’ economic partners as he presses ahead with his protectionist “America First” agenda.
Since June 1, steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico have been hit with tariffs of 25 percent and 10 percent, respectively.
“This latest action by China clearly indicates its determination to keep the United States at a permanent and unfair disadvantage, which is reflected in our massive $376 billion trade imbalance in goods,” Trump said of China’s retaliatory tariffs.
“This is unacceptable.”
Two decades ago, China’s economy was largely fueled by exports, but it has made progress in rebalancing toward domestic investment and consumption since the global financial crisis erupted last decade — limiting the damage trade tariffs could inflict on Beijing.
Still, strong exports this year have lifted the economy, which is now showing signs of losing steam under the weight of Beijing’s war on debt, launched to clean up financial risks and rein in borrowing-fueled growth.
Initially, 545 US products valued at $34 billion will be targeted by China, mimicking the Trump administration’s tariff rollout.
Beijing wants to “demonstrate that things will be done their way or not at all,” said Christopher Balding, an economics professor at Shenzhen’s HSBC Business School, who believes Chinese policymakers prefer demonstrations of “power and control” over “technical policy rightness.”
“It is a game of chicken,” Balding said.
So far Beijing has targeted major American exports to China such as soybeans, which brought in $14 billion in sales last year, and are grown in states that supported Trump during the 2016 presidential election, as well as other politically important products.
Officials also drew up a second list of $16 billion in chemical and energy products to hit with new tariffs, though China did not announce a date for imposing them.
More American targets are likely to follow as soon as the Trump administration follows through with publishing an expanded tariff list.


Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

Updated 18 November 2018
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Oil markets jittery over lower demand forecasts

RIYADH: Oil prices continued to nosedive last week over demand concerns amid an outlook of a slowing global economy. The strong US dollar weighed on both oil prices and the global demand outlook. Currencies weakened against the dollar, eroding their purchasing power.
Brent was down to $66.76 per barrel and WTI dropped to $56.46 per barrel by Friday. The former came close to its one-year low as both the International Energy Agency (IEA) and OPEC released monthly reports that articulated a darkening demand outlook in the short term. This increased fears of an oil demand slowdown. Market fundamentals also suggest that price volatility is likely to remain high in the near-term, although the oil market reached a balance in early October.
OPEC’s Monthly Oil Market Report (MOMR) arrived with bearish sentiments, revising downward its oil-demand forecast for this year and next, for the fourth month in a row. It forecast that global oil demand will rise by 1.29 million barrels per day (bpd) in 2019, 70,000 less than what OPEC expected last month. The MOMR also forecast increasing non-OPEC supply growth for 2019, with higher volumes outpacing the annual growth in world oil demand, leading to an excess in supply. The report was welcomed with open arms by the IEA, which had been at least in part responsible for driving sentiment toward a bear market. Surprisingly, OPEC warned that oil demand is falling faster than expected. Necessary action is a must.
Saudi Arabia is not sitting idly by while oil markets look as if they are heading toward instability. Markets were expecting severe US sanctions on Iran, which could have resulted in supply shortages once Iran’s crude exports went to zero. The unexpected introduction of waivers to allow eight countries to continue importing Iranian oil, was however an eye-opener. Now, as the world’s only swing producer, Saudi Arabia will have to take other measures to balance oil markets and drain excess oil from global stockpiles.
Despite what some analysts are claiming, there is currently no strategy to send less oil to the US to help reduce US stockpiles. Yes, some have claimed that Saudi crude shipments to the US are at about 600,000 barrels per day this month, which is a little more than half of what was being shipped in the summer months. But the reasons for this are related to seasonally low demand, the surge in US inventories and refineries heading into their winter maintenance season. Remember that November crude oil shipments were allocated to the US refiners last month before the US waivers on the Iranian sanctions were revealed. Also, keep in mind that Saudi Arabia owns the largest refinery in the US, which has a refining capacity that exceeds 600,000 bpd.

Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumblings that the US economic boom is over. 

It must be noted that there is a degree of financial manipulation underway in the oil futures markets. At the moment, there are few places where quick profits can be made, so some investors moved from stocks to commodities. Now, there are downward pressures on oil prices as some commodities market traders went long on oil futures, thinking that crude prices would rise. Then these same traders shorted natural gas, assuming that with a warmer winter, prices of that fuel would fall. Unfortunately for the traders, Trump’s sanction waivers on Iranian crude oil exports and cold weather on the US East Coast, caused exactly the reverse to take place. Oil prices fell and natural gas prices rose. Traders were therefore forced to sell their assets to cover margins, pushing oil prices lower. It is expected that some hedge funds and investment funds will also be moving away from going long on oil futures and this will cause further selling.
Lurking on the horizon is the massive US budget deficit and increasing rumbling that the US economic boom is over. The US federal budget deficit rose 17 percent in the 2018 fiscal year. It is now larger than in any year since 2012. Federal spending is up and amidst US President Donald Trump’s tax cuts, and federal revenue is not keeping pace. To make matters worse, the strong US economy and interest rate hikes by the US Federal Reserve have boosted the dollar.
A strong dollar makes commodities such as crude oil more expensive in international markets and reduces demand. Trump wants oil to be priced as low as possible to help bolster the US economy, which is clearly under strain, and to facilitate sales of crude abroad. But with a looming global oil shortage just a few years away due to a lack of upstream investment, it is incumbent on global oil producers to consider the long term in their output decisions.

* Faisal Mrza is an energy and oil market adviser. He was formerly with OPEC and Saudi Aramco. Reach him on Twitter: @faisalmrza