Trump readies tougher ‘America first’ line for China trade in 2018


By David J. Lynch, The Washington Post

December 27, 2017


The Trump administration is setting the stage to unveil tough new trade penalties against China early next year, moving closer to an oft-promised crackdown that some U.S. business executives fear will ignite a costly battle.


Several corporate officials and analysts closely tracking trade policy said that President Trump is expected to take concrete actions on a range of disputes involving China within weeks.


Trump is due by the end of January to render his first decision in response to petitions from U.S. companies seeking tariffs or import quotas on Chinese solar panels and washing machines manufactured in China and its neighbors.


U.S. trade officials in both cases already have determined that domestic manufacturers have been injured by surging imports and have recommended that he erect new trade barriers.


Trump could also order new limits on Chinese investment in the United States or raise tariffs unilaterally — a likely violation of U.S. commitments to the World Trade Organization — pending the outcome of a broader investigation into Beijing’s alleged failure to protect foreign companies’ intellectual property rights, analysts say.


And White House action is due on a separate Commerce Department probe triggered by worries about the national security impact of rising imports of Chinese steel and aluminum.


“Their intent is to bring shock and awe,” said Scott Kennedy, an expert on Chinese trade at the Center for Strategic and International Studies. “They’re not kidding around.”


On Dec. 6, Robert E. Lighthizer, the president’s chief trade negotiator, had a contentious discussion of administration trade policy with members of the US-China Business Council’s board of directors, which includes the chief executives of companies such as Chubb Insurance and General Motors, according to three executives familiar with the session who asked for anonymity to describe a confidential meeting.


During the closed-door Washington briefing for chief executives with business in China, Lighthizer said that U.S. complaints about Chinese trade practices could not be resolved simply by additional talks with Beijing, and he appeared indifferent to concerns that the administration’s hard line risked rupturing a $600 billion annual trade relationship.


“It did not go well,” said one person familiar with the exchange...