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U.S. Trade Office To Hold Hearings On Planned Tariffs On China


Over the course of the next week or so, hundreds of American businesses will have a chance to speak in support of or against the proposed import taxes. Starting today, the U.S. trade office is holding hearings on President Trump's plan to add new tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars on imports from China. In less than two weeks, the president is expected to hold a meeting with his Chinese counterpart President Xi Jinping. NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley is on the line. Hey, Scott.

SCOTT HORSLEY, BYLINE: Good morning, Noel.

KING: OK. So the Chamber of Commerce and other business groups have urged the White House to hold off on more tariffs. The Chamber of Commerce is a powerful group. Is the president taking them seriously?

HORSLEY: He doesn't seem to be putting a lot of stock in the Chamber's argument. There was a Chamber executive on CNBC last week criticizing the president's trade policies. And Trump phoned into the network and basically attacked the Chamber's patriotism.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: The Chamber is probably more for the companies and the people that are members than they are for our country because without tariffs, we would be absolutely outside of something that I won't even mention. We would be absolutely at a competitive disadvantage, the likes of which you've never seen.

HORSLEY: A lot of the business community actually shares the president's goal of changing China's behavior and getting, for example, better protections for intellectual property. But the critics suggest the president's tactics are not the best way to go about that. They caution that if the president insists on escalating the trade war between the U.S. and China, both countries are going to suffer.

KING: And so is that the focus of these hearings this week - like, we need a little bit of moderation to meet our goal?

HORSLEY: Well, you'll probably hear that macro argument. But if that was the only thing being argued, you probably wouldn't have to hold hearings all day...

KING: Yeah (laughter).

HORSLEY: ...Every day this week and into next week.

So really, this is a chance for individual businesses to stand up and say if you're going to impose tariffs on China, at least don't tax this particular product. The administration has already published a long list of tariff targets totaling some $300 billion. A lot of those are consumer goods. So for example, Target and Walmart have come out against these tariffs. But a lot of businesses will have more specific requests; just carve out this particular product from the tariff lift - tariff list.

We've gone through this before with some of the administration's earlier tariffs, and it is exactly the kind of government picking winners and losers that Republicans, in particular, used to complain about.

KING: Interesting. So businesses will be arguing on their own behalf.

You know, it's been suggested that the threat of higher tariffs is really just a way for President Trump to ensure that President Xi Jinping will sit down with him later this month. What do you think about that?

HORSLEY: It could be a bargaining chip. You know, the last time these two men met on the sidelines of another international summit last winter, Trump agreed to postpone a round of tariff increases just so negotiations could continue. This latest escalation comes after the administration accused China of backtracking on trade promises it had already made. So it's possible that the threat of higher tariffs will prompt further concessions from China, just as Trump has boasted happened with Mexico last month - or last week. But China is insisting it will not be bullied.

KING: I mean, there's been a lot of focus on China - and justifiably so. But we should point out or remember that is not the only front in the president's trade war.

HORSLEY: No. Over the weekend, India announced higher tariffs on a variety of U.S. exports, including almonds and apples. India had threatened to raise those tariffs last year in response the administration's tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. But it held off. Prime Minister Modi's government decided to go ahead with these tariffs after the U.S. stripped India of preferential trading status last month.

Now, we should say, India is - you know, it's a big country, but it's not really a big trading partner for the U.S. Our total trade with India is only about a fifth of what it is with China. But Trump has been waging trade battles all over the world. Remember he is still considering slapping tariffs on imported cars...

KING: Yeah.

HORSLEY: ...From Europe and Japan.

KING: NPR's chief economics correspondent Scott Horsley covering the trade war. Thanks, Scott.

HORSLEY: Good to be with you, Noel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Horsley is NPR's Chief Economics Correspondent. He reports on ups and downs in the national economy as well as fault lines between booming and busting communities.
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