Photo: AFP
The world trade system faces threats from many directions, economists say. Photo: AFP

Word late on Tuesday that the Trump administration was poised to escalate a trade war with China has been confirmed by the White House, with a spokeswoman saying that the president is “going to hold their feet to the fire.”

“Certainly, we would like to see the playing field leveled,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said in a briefing on Wednesday. “But until that happens, the president is going to hold their feet to the fire. He’s going to continue to put the pressure on China.”

Administration officials told reporters in a phone briefing later that President Donald Trump had directed trade officials to consider raising proposed tariff rates on US$200 billion worth of Chinese imports from 10% to 25%, multiple news outlets reported. The president is said to have dismissed the initial proposal as “weak.”

In response to the earlier reports of the move, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang decried the tactics as “extortion.”

“America’s pressure and extortion will not be effective,” Geng stressed, according to a transcript from the ministry. “If the US takes further actions to escalate, China will retaliate, resolutely protecting our fair and legitimate rights,” he added.

The goods that would be subject to the steep import duties include fish, petroleum, chemicals and handbags. The Trump administration has already imposed tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods and duties on an additional $16 billion worth are expected soon.

During a hearing last week on the $16 billion tranche of tariffs, representatives from US industries decried the indiscriminate selection process for identifying which products would be subjected to the trade sanctions, with some warning of dire consequences should tariffs be imposed on an additional $200 billion worth.

Ed Bryztwa, director of international trade at the American Chemistry Council, was especially concerned about the additional tariffs, even before the threat of more than doubling the tariff rate.

“These [10%] duties, if applied, would cause disproportionate economic harm to US interests,” he stressed in testimony to US trade officials, adding that any escalation would be catastrophic for US companies.

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