by Jenny Leonard and Steven Yang
China is considering a U.S. request to shift some tariffs on key agricultural goods to other products so the Trump administration can sell any eventual trade deal as a win for farmers ahead of the 2020 election, people familiar with the situation said.
The step would involve China moving retaliatory duties it imposed starting last July on $50 billion worth of U.S. goods to non-agricultural imports, said the people, who asked not to be identified because the discussions were private. The shift is because the U.S. doesn’t intend to lift its own duties on $50 billion of Chinese imports even if an agreement to resolve the trade war between the two nations is reached, one the people said.
Another person said China would consider shifting the tariffs to make it easier to meet a proposal to buy an additional $30 billion a year more of U.S. agricultural goods on top of pre-trade war levels as part of a final deal. Last July, China had levied punitive tariffs on American goods including soy, corn, wheat, cotton, rice, beef, pork and poultry in response to U.S. duties.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Trade Representative didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. China’s Commerce Ministry didn’t respond to faxed questions.
The bartering shows that both sides are taking political considerations into account as negotiations drag on to end the trade war, which has rattled financial markets for months. An outcome that completely removes punitive tariffs looks increasingly unlikely as Trump looks to hone his campaign message and continues to threaten the European Union, India and other countries with trade actions.
The people didn’t specify which other goods would receive higher tariffs instead of agricultural products. Other top imports included aircraft engines and parts, semiconductors, passenger cars and chemicals.
China also may take action on non-tariff barriers that have affected agricultural goods. The commerce ministry in Beijing on Monday said it would review whether to continue anti-dumping and anti-subsidy measures on U.S. distillers’ dried grains, a by-product of corn ethanol production that’s used in animal feed.
Over the weekend, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. and China were “hopefully getting very close to the final round” and discussing whether to hold more in-person trade talks. He also said the U.S. is open to facing “repercussions” if it doesn’t live up to its commitments in a potential trade deal, a sign that the two sides are edging closer to an accord.
Under the proposed agreement, China would commit by 2025 to buy more U.S. commodities, including soybeans and energy products, and allow 100 percent foreign ownership for U.S. companies operating in China as a binding pledge that can trigger retaliation from the U.S. if left unfulfilled, people familiar with the situation said earlier this month.
--With assistance from Niu Shuping and James Mayger.
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