At 12.01 EST the US escalated tariffs on China, following up on US President Trump’s tweets last weekend. The tariffs escalation follows what the US administration says was backtracking by China on a number of structural issues in an earlier draft of a trade agreement. Markets had been nervously anticipating this escalation all week, but also hoping that it could be avoided in some way.
A day of talks in Washington between Chinese officials led by Chinese vice-minister Liu He and US officials including US Trade Representative Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin failed to lead to any agreements or even any sign of progress despite President’s Trump’s tweeting that he received a “beautiful” letter from Chinese President Xi.
Talks are set to resume later but chances of any breakthrough appear slim. China appears to have taken a harder line on subordinating to some of the US demands for structural changes and don’t appear to have been too phased by the increase in US tariffs on $200bn of Chinese goods from 10 to 25%. The US side on the other hand appear to be taking a tough stance emboldened by the strength of the economy.
China has vowed retaliation but at the time of writing has not outlined any plans for any reciprocal tariffs. Trump has also stated that the US is preparing to levy 25% on tariffs on a further $325bn of Chinese goods though this could take some weeks to roll out. China does not however, appear unduly worried about talks extending further and may be content to play a waiting game.
Market reaction in Asia has been muted today and Chinese stocks have actually registered strong gains, reportedly due active buying by state backed funds, while the Chinese currency, CNY has registered gains. The USD in contrast has been under broad pressure.
Overall however, markets will end the week bruised and in poor shape going into next week unless something major emerges from the last day of talks. The CNY meanwhile, could end up weakening more sharply in the weeks ahead, acting as a shock absorber to the impact of higher tariffs on Chinese exports.
For more on this topic I will be appearing on CNBC Asia at 8.00am (Singapore Time) on Monday morning.