Weekend developments in the trade war included China’s denial that they had reneged on any prior agreements, contrary to what the US administration has said as a rationale for ratcheting up tariffs on China. In fact, China’s vice-minister Liu He said that such changes (to the draft) were “natural”. He also said the remaining differences were “matters of principle”, which implies that China will not make concessions on such some key structural issues. This does not bode well for a quick agreement.
Meanwhile Trump’s economic advisor Larry Kudlow suggested that Trump and China’s President Xi could meet at the G20 meeting at the end of June. This offers a glimmer of hope but in reality such a meeting would achieve little without any agreement on substantive issues, which appears a long way off. Markets now await details from the US administration on tariffs on a further $325bn of Chinese exports to the US effectively covering all Chinese exports to the US.
China has promised retaliation and we could see them outline further tariffs on US exports in the next couple of days as well as the possible introduction of non-tariff barriers, making life harder for US companies in China. The bottom line is that any deal now seems far off while the risk of further escalation on both sides has risen. Global markets are increasingly taking fright as a result, especially emerging market assets.
There are no further negotiations scheduled between the US and China though Kudlow has said that China has invited Treasury Secretary Mnuchin and trade representative Lighthizer to Beijing for further talks. Given that Trump now appears to have a unified administration as well as many Republicans and Democrats behind him while China is digging its heels in this, don’t expect a resolution anytime soon.
China’s currency CNY is facing growing pressure as the US-China trade war escalates. The CNY CFETS index has weakened by around 1% in just over a week (ie CNY has depreciated relative to its trading partners) and is now at its weakest since 20 Feb 19. While not weaponising the currency, there’s every chance that China will manage CNY depreciation to help compensate Chinese exporters for the pressure faced from higher tariffs (as appeared to take place last summer). Expect more pain ahead.