US targets $300bn of Chinese goods for new tariff hikes

US President Donald Trump and China's President Xi Jinping arrive for a state dinner at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China. (File/Reuters)
Updated 14 May 2019
0

US targets $300bn of Chinese goods for new tariff hikes

  • Trade talks between the US and China have come to a halt, sources close to the discussions say
  • Trump plans to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping at the end of June at a G20 meeting in Japan,

BEIJING: US officials listed $300 billion more of Chinese goods for possible tariff hikes while Beijing vowed Tuesday to “fight to the finish” in an escalating trade battle that is fueling fears about damage to global economic growth.
The US Trade Representative’s Office issued its target list after Beijing announced tariff hikes Monday on $60 billion of American goods in their spiraling dispute over Chinese technology ambitions and other irritants. Chinese authorities were reacting to President Donald Trump’s surprise decision last week to impose punitive duties on $200 billion of imports from China.
“China will fight to the finish,” said a foreign ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang.
“We have the determination and capacity to safeguard our interests,” Geng said. “China’s countermeasures have shown our determination to safeguard the multilateral trade system.”
The latest US list of 3,805 product categories is a step toward carrying out Trump’s May 5 threat to extend punitive 25% duties to all Chinese imports, the USTR said. It said a June 17 hearing would be held before Washington decides how to proceed.
The list “covers essentially all products” not already affected by punitive tariffs, the USTR said.
It includes laptop computers, saw blades, turbine parts, tuna and garlic. The USTR noted it excludes pharmaceuticals and rare earths minerals used in electronics and batteries.
“The risk of further escalation is far from over,” said Timme Spakman of ING in a report.
Also Tuesday, China’s tightly controlled social media were filled with comments lambasting Washington following weeks of little online discussion of the dispute. That suggested official censors might have blocked earlier comments but started allowing those that favor Beijing to deflect potential criticism of President Xi Jinping’s government.
The United States is “sucking the blood of the Chinese,” said a comment left on the “Strong Country” blog of the ruling Communist Party’s newspaper People’s Daily. Another comment on the site said, “Why are Chinese people bullied? Because our hearts are too soft!“
Trump started raising tariffs last July over complaints China steals or pressures foreign companies to hand over technology and unfairly subsidizes businesses Beijing is trying to build into global leaders in robotics and other fields.
A stumbling block has been US insistence on an enforcement mechanism with penalties to ensure Beijing carries out its commitments.
Odds of a settlement “remain high,” said Mark Zandi of Moody’s Analytics in a report. “But suddenly a number of other scenarios seem possible, even one in which the US, China and the global economy suffer a recession.”
Asian stock markets fell Tuesday as the fight, with no negotiated settlement in sight, fed investor anxiety about the impact on global economic growth. China main market index lost 0.7 percent while Tokyo’s benchmark declined 0.6%. Hong Kong, Australia and Taiwan fell.
But shares in Europe rebounded and the future contracts for the Dow Jones Industrial Average and S&P 500 were up 0.5% and 0.6%, respectively.
On Monday, the Dow Jones Industrial Average fell 2.4% and the tech-heavy Nasdaq lost 3.4% for its biggest drop of the year.
That came after China’s Finance Ministry announced duties of 5% to 25% on about 5,200 American products, including batteries, spinach and coffee. Details of what the duties were before the increases were unclear.
Also Monday, Trump said he still was considering whether to go ahead with penalties on the additional $300 billion of Chinese goods. He told reporters, “I have not made that decision yet.”
Trump warned Xi on Twitter that China “will be hurt very badly” if it doesn’t agree to a trade deal. Trump wrote that Beijing “had a great deal, almost completed, & you backed out!“
The last round of negotiations ended Friday in Washington with no word of progress. Both governments indicated more talks are likely but set no date.
Trump said Monday he would meet Xi during the Group of 20 meeting of major economies six weeks from now on June 28 and 29 in Osaka, Japan.
The time before then will be “highly volatile” for financial markets, said Macquarie Bank analysts in a report.
“Both sides have the incentive to act half-crazy and unpredictable before that in order to cut a better deal,” they said.
The two governments have given themselves a few more days to make peace before their latest tariff hikes hit.
Chinese tariffs announced Monday don’t take effect until June 1, 2½ weeks from now. The US increases apply to Chinese goods shipped starting Friday, which will take about three weeks to cross the Pacific and arrive at US ports.
Tariff increases already in place have disrupted trade in American soybeans and Chinese medical equipment. That has sent shockwaves through other Asian economies that supply Chinese factories.
Beijing is running out of US imports to penalize because of their lopsided trade balance. Chinese regulators have instead targeted American companies in China by slowing down the clearing of shipments through customs and the processing of business licenses.


Tour company Thomas Cook collapses, global bookings canceled

Updated 35 min 35 sec ago

Tour company Thomas Cook collapses, global bookings canceled

  • The bosses of the world’s oldest travel company seek to raise the $250 million they need to keep the company afloat

LONDON: Longtime British tour company Thomas Cook collapsed after failing to secure rescue funding, and travel bookings for its more than 600,000 global vacationers were canceled early Monday.

The British government said the return of the firm’s 150,000 British customers now abroad would be the largest repatriation in its peacetime history. The process began Monday and officials warned that delays are inevitable.

The Civil Aviation Authority said Thomas Cook has ceased trading, its four airlines will be grounded, and its 21,000 employees in 16 countries, including 9,000 in the UK, will lose their jobs. The company several months ago had blamed a slowdown in bookings because of Brexit uncertainty for contributing to its crushing debt burden.

The 178-year-old company had said Friday it was seeking £200 million ($250 million) to avoid going bust and was in weekend talks with shareholders and creditors to stave off failure. The prominent firm, whose airliners were a familiar sight in many parts of the world, also operated around 600 UK travel stores.

The company’s chief executive Peter Fankhauser said, “This marks a deeply sad day for the company which pioneered package holidays and made travel possible for millions of people around the world.”

He said a deal had been “largely agreed” but that “an additional facility” requested in the last few days presented an insurmountable challenge but provided no further details.

“I would like to apologize to our millions of customers, and thousands of employees,” he said in a statement.

Britain’s CAA said it had arranged an aircraft fleet for the complex British repatriation effort, which is expected to last two weeks.

“Due to the significant scale of the situation, some disruption is inevitable, but the Civil Aviation Authority will endeavor to get people home as close as possible to their planned dates,” the aviation authority said in a statement.

Describing the repatriation plan, British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said dozens of charter planes, from as far afield as Malaysia, had been hired to fly customers home free of charge. He said hundreds of people were staffing call centers and airport operations centers.

“The task is enormous, the biggest peacetime repatriation in UK history. So, there are bound to be problems and delays,” he said.

A website set up by the aviation authority to aid the firm’s customers crashed shortly after the company collapse was announced.

Unions representing the Thomas Cook staff had urged the British government to intervene to prop up Thomas Cook to protect jobs and the traveling public.

Most of Thomas Cook’s British customers are protected by the government-run travel insurance program, which makes sure vacationers can get home if a British-based tour operator fails while they are abroad.

Thomas Cook, which began in 1841 with a one-day train excursion in England and now operates in 16 countries, has been struggling over the past few years. It only recently raised £900 million ($1.12 billion), including receiving money from leading Chinese shareholder Fosun.

An estimated 1 million future travelers will find their bookings for upcoming holidays canceled. They are likely to receive refunds under the terms of the government’s travel insurance plan.

Officials plan to post details on how to receive refunds later on Monday. Travelers holding reservations with Thomas Cook were told not to go to the airport because all flights had been canceled.

An earlier repatriation plan following the 2017 collapse of Monarch Airlines cost the government about 60 million pounds. The Thomas Cook effort is much larger and likely to be far more costly.

In May, the company reported a debt burden of 1.25 billion pounds and cautioned that political uncertainty related to Britain’s scheduled departure from the European Union at the end of October had hurt demand for summer holiday travel. Heat waves over the past couple of summers in Europe have also led many people to stay at home, while higher fuel and hotel costs have weighed on the travel business.

The company’s troubles were already affecting those traveling under the Thomas Cook banner.

A British vacationer told BBC radio on Sunday that the Les Orangers beach resort in the Tunisian town of Hammamet, near Tunis, demanded that guests who were about to leave pay extra money for fear it wouldn’t be paid what it is owed by Thomas Cook.

Ryan Farmer, of Leicestershire, said many tourists refused the demand, since they had already paid Thomas Cook, so security guards shut the hotel’s gates and “were not allowing anyone to leave.”

It was like “being held hostage,” said Farmer, who is due to leave Tuesday. He said he would also refuse to pay if the hotel asked him.

The Associated Press called the hotel, as well as the British Embassy in Tunis, but no officials or managers were available for comment.