Donald Trump blinks in his one-man trade war with China: US govt stalls import tariff hike on Chinese phones, laptops, electronics

You've got until Dec 15 to panic buy gear before 10% rise hits

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Updated America has pushed back its decision to raise import tariffs on Chinese-made smartphones, laptops, and similar electronics, by 10 per cent, the Office of the US Trade Representative announced today.

From September 1, The Land of the Free will tack the extra levy on $300bn of stuff coming in from the Middle Kingdom. However, for some of that gear, the tariff hike will be delayed to December 15, according to the United States Trade Representative a few hours ago.

Specifically, "cell phones, laptop computers, video game consoles, certain toys, computer monitors, and certain items of footwear and clothing" flowing from China into the US will have an extra 10-per-cent added to their import tariffs from mid-December rather than early next month.

The climbdown should give America's consumer goods market time to panic-order stocks ready for Christmas. Investor news outlet Marketwatch reckoned the Dow Jones rose 400 points on word of the stalled import crackdown.

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Trump continues on the warpath: Now US tariffs cover nearly everything arriving from China

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This will be the fourth round of tariff increases by the US since June 2018, when President Donald Trump fired the first volley in his one-man trade war against China. Although economists argue that all these levies do is push prices up, with the burden falling on buyers rather than sellers, the Orange One is determined to push ahead.

"These tariffs are essential to preventing further unfair transfers of American technology and intellectual property to China, which will protect American jobs," said President Trump at the start of this month.

The move could signal that lobbying by Dell, Intel, HP and Microsoft, to head off tariffs on high-value IT products such as laptops and tablets, was a temporary success.

Certain items will also be removed from the $300bn tariff hit list – potentially anything to do with "health, safety, national security and other factors" in the USTR's words. El Reg assumes the White House wants to make a bulk order of authentic fortune cookies for its Christmas party this year.

The fashion for crippling trade barriers is spreading: Japan pulled South Korea from its fast-access trade whitelist earlier this month, with no sign so far of Seoul's former status being restored. With both Japan and South Korea being key high tech R&D and manufacturing nations for tech goods, the impact of these moves will reverberate around the world. ®

Updated to add

President Trump has said he held back the tariff hike to protect Christmas sales, "just in case some of the tariffs would have an impact on US customers." That means the Commander-in-Chief may have finally realized, or admitted, that American buyers pay the increased levies, not Chinese exporters. The president's tariffs hit folks at home.

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