HUAIBEI: employees working on a medical glove production line at a factory in China’s eastern Anhui province on Thursday.—AFP
HUAIBEI: employees working on a medical glove production line at a factory in China’s eastern Anhui province on Thursday.—AFP

BEIJING: China on Thursday vowed to counter the latest US tariffs on $300 billion of Chinese goods but called on the United States to meet it halfway on a potential trade deal, as US President Donald Trump said any pact would have to be on America’s terms.

The Chinese finance ministry said in a statement that Washington’s tariffs, set to start next month, violated a consensus reached between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping at a June summit in Japan to resolve their disputes via negotiation.

In a separate statement, China’s foreign ministry spokeswoman, Hua Chunying, said, “We hope the US will meet China halfway, and implement the consensus of the two heads of the two countries in Osaka.” China hopes to find mutually acceptable solutions through dialogue and consultation on the basis of equality and mutual respect, she added.

Trump, who is seeking re-election in 2020 and had made the economy and his tough stance on China a key part of his 2016 campaign for the White House, on Thursday said any agreement must meet US demands.

“China, frankly, would love to make a deal, and it’s got to be a deal on proper terms. It’s got to be a deal, frankly, on our terms. Otherwise, what’s the purpose?” Trump said in an interview on New Hampshire radio station WGIR.

The trade picture is further complicated by continuing unrest in Hong Kong, which Trump on Wednesday tied to any possible agreement, saying Xi must first work out the situation in the territory with protesters.

On Thursday, he used Twitter to call on the Chinese president to personally meet with protesters to spur “a happy and enlightened ending to the Hong Kong problem.” Trump and Xi in June had agreed to restart trade talks after negotiations stalled earlier this year. But earlier this month, the Trump administration said it would slap duties beginning Sept 1 on $300bn of Chinese goods, which would effectively cover all of China’s exports to the United States.

Trump backed off part of the plan this week, delaying duties on certain items such as cellphones, laptops and other consumer goods, in the hopes of blunting their impact on US holiday sales. Tariffs will still apply to those products starting in mid-December.

The move has roiled global markets and further unnerved investors as the trade dispute between the world’s two largest economies stretches into its second year with no end in sight.

China’s threat to impose countermeasures further sent global stocks sprawling on Thursday with oil also deepening its slide over recession fears, although US stocks opened higher on Thursday amid strong retail sales data.

Trump, in his radio interview on Thursday, dismissed investors’ worries.

“We had a couple of bad days but ... we’re going to have some very good days because we had to take on China,” he told WGIR.

WTO to judge solar panel dispute

The World Trade Organisation(WTO) agreed Thursday to China’s request to create a dispute panel tasked with judging whether US tariffs on solar panels violate international trade rules.

The trade restrictions were imposed by President Donald Trump’s administration last year, part of a raft of measures initiated by Washington that have triggered a tit-for-tat tariff war between the world’s top two economies.

China filed its first complaint on the solar panel tariffs at the WTO in August 2018, arguing that the so-called “safeguard measures” were an illegal attempt to protect US producers from foreign competition.

The WTO’s decision to set up a dispute settlement panel was a procedural move that followed automatically from China’s second request for arbitration.

It comes at a time of escalating tension between Washington and Beijing, some of which is centred on the WTO.

Trump this week threatened to pull the US out of the body if conditions were not improved.

He has been especially critical of the terms granted China when it joined the organisation, including its developing nation status, which Washington argues helps shield China from the scrutiny it merits as a major economic powerhouse.

The US has also blocked the naming of new members to the appellate panel part of the Dispute Settlement Body, which will likely see the system grind to a halt by the end of the year.

That could impact several cases involving the US, including the solar panel dispute, because without a functioning appeals branch international trade disputes could drift in legal limbo for years until a solution emerges that allows the WTO court to resume work.

Published in Dawn, August 16th, 2019