There’s no chance China will cut its trade surplus with the U.S. in response to President Donald Trump’s tariff threats. For starters, Washington has made no specific demand to which Beijing can respond. But its efforts may have an unexpected side effect: a debt crisis in China.
The 25 percent additional tariffs on exports of machinery and electronics looked, at first blush, like a stealth tax on offshoring. The focus on categories like semiconductors and nuclear components, in which U.S.-owned manufacturers in China are strong, recalled Trump’s 2016 promise to tax “any business that leaves our country.”
It seems, though, that offshoring wasn’t the target after all. Now, with the imposition of new tariffs on low-value exports that mostly involve Asian value chains, the simple fact of selling cheap products that the U.S. buys has become the problem.
Either way, the administration appears set on shrinking its current-account deficit (which, at a moderate 2.4 percent of GDP, is far lower than the 6 percent clocked in 2006-7) just as the Federal Reserve raises interest rates. Distress has already been registered in China. On July 19, the yuan (also known as the renminbi) hit 6.80 to the dollar, the weakest in a year and 7 percent lower than at the end of May.
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