President Trump on Thursday announced he plans to slap tens of billions of dollars in tariffs and penalties on imports from China to try to curb what he described as its efforts to steal intellectual property from U.S. companies.
The president signed a memorandum directing the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) and the Treasury Department to launch a broad range of actions against China.
During an event at the White House, Trump said that imposing tariffs on China is “going to make us a much stronger, much richer nation.”
The president called China a “friend” but demanded the world’s second-largest economy adopt more favorable trade practices with the U.S.
“We want reciprocal, mirror,” he said. “If they charge us, we charge them the same thing. That’s the way it’s gotta be.”
Trump said the tariffs “could be about $60 billion,” hours after his own advisers said the number would be closer to $50 billion.
The memorandum is a result of a Section 301 investigation launched in August that found that China’s theft of U.S. intellectual property is costing the U.S. economy billions of dollars.
“This is the first of many,” Trump said as he signed the memorandum.
Trump will ask U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to consider whether the actions by China should result in increased tariffs on their imports. Within 15 days, the USTR is expected to publish a proposed list of products and recommended tariff increases for public comment.
The decision follows a separate move by Trump to impose new tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum. That decision affected imports of those metals to the United States from around the world and prompted fears of a trade war.
While the steel and aluminum tariffs were targeted toward China, the new measures are even more focused on Beijing and could draw more political support from Congress. The steel and aluminum tariffs have been criticized by many Democratic and Republican lawmakers.
The new order responds to longstanding criticisms from U.S. businesses that China uses a number of methods to illegally acquire U.S. technologies, sometimes through requirements imposed on U.S. companies that want to sell their products in China.
“We have a tremendous intellectual property theft situation going on, which likewise is hundreds of billions of dollars and that’s on a yearly basis,” Trump said.
The administration said that 1,300 tariff lines describing different imports are in the mix for possible penalties under the new order.
“[The action] is designed to offset the gains that the Chinese have received through their unfair trade practices,” a senior administration said.
The White House said that the administration will propose for public comment adding 25 percent additional tariffs on certain products including aerospace, information communication technology and machinery that they argue are supported by China’s unfair trade policies.
The figure of $50 billion is based on 2017 estimates and is “designed to capture the amount of the harm done simply by the forced-ownership restrictions,” another official said.
The president also is asking the USTR to pursue dispute settlement through the World Trade Organization to address China’s discriminatory licensing practices.
And Trump is tasking Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin to propose executive branch action at the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which overseas foreign investments in the U.S. for national security problems.
The CFIUS recently rejected the takeover by Singapore-based Broadcom of U.S.-based Qualcomm on national security grounds, arguing Broadcom would reduce Qualcomm’s research and development budget to such an extent that it would give Chinese telecommunications firm Huawei an advantage in developing advanced technologies such as 5G wireless networks.
The administration argues that the CFIUS must be strengthened to protect U.S. national security from predatory practices used by the Chinese to acquire U.S. technology.
A U.S. investigation found that China uses various tactics to put pressure on U.S. companies to transfer their technology to Chinese businesses — including through requirements imposed on U.S. companies for the right to do business in the important market of China.