The head of the most influential US business lobbying group warned the Trump administration that unilateral tariffs on Chinese goods could lead to a destructive trade war that will hurt American consumers and United States economic growth.
US Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Donohue said in a statement on Thursday (March 15) that such tariffs, associated with a probe of China’s intellectual property practices, would be “damaging taxes on American consumers”.
His comments came after White House trade adviser Peter Navarro said that Mr Trump would in coming weeks get options to address China’s “theft and forced transfer” of American intellectual property as part of the investigation under Section 301 of the US Trade Act of 1974.
Reuters reported on Tuesday that Mr Trump was considering tariffs on up to US$60 billion (S$79 billion) worth of Chinese information technology, telecommunications and consumer products, along with US investment restrictions for Chinese companies.
Mr Donohue said the Trump administration was right to focus on the negative economic impact of China’s industrial policies and unfair trade practices, but said tariffs were the wrong approach to dealing with these.
“Tariffs of US$30 billion a year would wipe out over a third of the savings American families received from the doubling of the standard deduction in tax reform,” Mr Donohue said. “If the tariffs reach US$60 billion, which has been rumoured, the impact would be even more devastating.”
He urged the administration not to proceed with such a plan.
“Tariffs could lead to a destructive trade war with serious consequences for US economic growth and job creation”, hurting consumers, businesses, farmers and ranchers, Mr Donohue said.
Mr Navarro, speaking on CNBC television, said the remedies in the “Section 301” probe were among “many steps that the president is courageously going to take in order to address unfair trade practices”.
“I don’t think there’s a single person… on Wall Street that will oppose cracking down on China’s theft of our intellectual property or their forced transfer,” Mr Navarro added.
But Mr Navarro, a key architect of steel and aluminium tariffs announced last week by Mr Trump, said that tariffs will not necessarily provoke a trade war.
“We can obviously do it in a way that can be good for the American people and good for the global trading system,” he said. “We can do this in a way that is peaceful and will improve and strengthen the trading system… Everybody on Wall Street needs to understand: Just relax.”
China has repeatedly said that there would be no winners in a trade war, but that it would protect its interests in the face of US trade action.
Speaking at a regular briefing on Thursday, Chinese Foreign Minister spokesman Lu Kang said: “History has proven that a trade war is in no one’s interest.”
But he warned: “If an undesirable situation arises, China has the intention of safeguarding its legitimate rights.”
The official China Daily newspaper warned in an editorial late on Thursday that China would not allow itself to become “the target for the arrows of adversity”.
“It should be borne in mind that even the most playful cat will scratch if you provoke it beyond a certain point,” the newspaper said.