Congress is expected to support Trump’s tariffs against China

This article has been updated with more details about President Trump’s new tariffs on Chinese imports.

WASHINGTON — The stakes are rising for relations between the United States and China, now that President Donald Trump has directed officials to consider tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese goods in response to alleged violations of American intellectual property.

At the same time, U.S. officials are preparing to use the Section 301 probe as leverage in negotiations with Beijing. Congress is expected to support such efforts and many lawmakers view negotiations with China as a “last resort” — a threshold that could prove difficult to meet.

What to watch

The new tariffs would mark an aggressive escalation of U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer’s efforts to compel China to stop stealing American technology and to stop subsidizing production of low-cost Chinese goods in such industries as robotics and advanced semiconductors. Trump’s top trade adviser, Peter Navarro, has argued that forcing Chinese manufacturing to move outside of China to new manufacturing hubs elsewhere in Asia is a more productive approach to resolving trade issues.

Trump is also considering placing tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from major nations, including Mexico and Canada, as well as Europe. However, even this proposal was criticized by House Speaker Paul Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who argued that any restrictions on foreign imports should involve concessions from countries that export steel or aluminum to the United States.

Trump’s proposed steel and aluminum tariffs, which could target up to 20 percent of steel and 10 percent of aluminum, might prompt retaliatory measures from other nations that could have a significant impact on the U.S. economy.

Congressional analysts estimate that the tariffs would cost the U.S. economy about $100 billion, but economists fear that curbing steel imports might be likelier to hurt American jobs than impose price increases. Economists have warned that any trade policy decisions, whether aimed at China or elsewhere, could disrupt global markets and stoke tensions with trading partners.

Experts have said that the sudden and unilateral nature of the steel and aluminum tariffs will significantly hurt the U.S. economy and the livelihoods of many ordinary Americans.

Trump’s tariffs would be a stark departure from the tradition in the U.S. government, which typically responds through the use of a formal notification process followed by a public comment period.

Analysts have predicted that the Trump administration will use a different approach to push for trade concessions from China. Beijing has signaled that it is willing to make concessions in the name of a truce in a trade war but that it is unlikely to give up its economic growth model. Lighthizer has indicated that it will respond to potential tariffs by retaliating by imposing higher tariffs on U.S. exports to China.

The Wall Street Journal has reported that the U.S. plans to impose the restrictions in two weeks.

Key players

Trump’s announcement comes at a time when U.S.-China trade tensions have escalated. The U.S. and China are likely to clash on several fronts in 2018, from the outright imposition of tariffs to pending disputes over mutual claims of trade violations to the end of the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership. China has recently notched up complaints against Washington in a growing number of international trade disputes.

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