July 12, 2018 / 8:14 AM / 3 days ago

Beijing urges U.S. firms in China to lobby Washington over trade war

BEIJING/SEOUL (Reuters) - China on Thursday said foreign firms operating in China would suffer in a trade war, urging U.S. companies to lobby their government to protect their interests, and said no talks to end the impasse were currently under way.

Earlier on Thursday, South Korea warned that its exports of high-tech components could be hurt as the U.S.-China trade dispute escalates, Beijing cut its forecast for soybean imports and the Chinese currency fell as worries about fallout from the simmering conflict grew.

“We hope U.S. firms can do more to lobby the U.S. government, and work hard to defend their own interests,” Chinese commerce ministry spokesman Gao Feng told a media briefing.

Gao said no negotiations between the two sides were going on currently, adding “The precondition for negotiations is trust. From what I’ve learnt, both sides have not been in touch about restarting talks.”

On Wednesday, Beijing said it would hit back after the Trump administration raised the stakes in their trade dispute, threatening 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese goods, a swift escalation after an earlier round of tariffs took effect only on Friday.

While Chinese shares regained Wednesday’s heavy losses, with the Shanghai Composite index rising 2.2 percent, the yuan fell against the dollar following the central bank’s weakest daily fixing in nearly a year and Washington’s fresh tariff threats.

China has yet to say how it will respond after the fresh round of U.S. tariffs would bring to $250 billion the total of Chinese goods impacted, once the latest list of duties take effect after a two-month comment period.

Last year, China only imported about $130 billion of U.S. goods, so to retaliate it might increase the size of the tariffs it imposes or resort to what it calls “qualitative” measures, which U.S. businesses fear could mean reprisals against their China operations.

A survey by the American Chamber of Commerce in Shanghai found that most U.S. businesses operating in China oppose the use of tariffs in retaliation for the challenges they face, from an uneven playing field to poor protection of intellectual property rights.

The tariffs initiated by U.S. President Donald Trump have also drawn criticism from lawmakers in his own Republican Party, as well as from U.S. trade groups worried about higher costs for businesses and consumers.

On Thursday, Beijing cut its forecast for imports of soybeans - the most-valuable crop it buys from the United States - after it imposed a 25 percent retaliatory tariff on an array of agricultural goods, which could inflict pain in Trump-supporting states such as Iowa, Kansas and Texas.

China warned that higher prices due to trade conflicts with the United States would curb demand as farmers switch to alternatives for animal feed.

Shipping containers and cargo vessels are seen at the Dachan Bay Terminals in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

SOUTH KOREA, JAPAN VULNERABLE

Concerns about the knock-on effect of the trade war spread on Thursday, with South Korea, Asia’s fourth-largest economy, warning that components and materials - “intermediate goods” - used in home appliances, computers and communications devices could be caught in the crossfire.

South Korea’s trade ministry said the trade war could be “prolonged and spread,” adding that it would prepare responses and scenarios to cope with the economic impact of the trade row.

Its finance minister also warned that the dispute would present “serious downward risks” to South Korea’s export-reliant economy if the impact spread globally.

“While the trade conflict between the U.S. and China has had a limited impact so far, we can’t rule out the possibility of a slowdown in the Chinese economy and a contraction in world trade should conflict grow and spread into the global market,” Finance Minister Kim Dong-yeon said at a government meeting.

OCBC Bank in Singapore estimated that in a scenario where U.S. tariffs apply to $250 billion of Chinese goods, South Korea’s GDP growth could be reduced by 0.3 percentage point while Japan’s growth could be cut by 0.2 percentage point.

“China’s closest neighbors, namely Japan, Korea and Hong Kong, are most vulnerable to a U.S.-Sino trade war because they export mostly intermediate goods to China,” OCBC said in a note.

South Korea’s central bank on Thursday downgraded its growth outlook for this year to 2.9 percent, from 3.0 percent, after an export boom ground to a halt in June in the face of escalating U.S.-China trade tensions.

Shipping containers are seen on a cargo vessel at the Dachan Bay Terminals in Shenzhen, Guangdong province, China July 12, 2018. REUTERS/Stringer

Major auto producing countries such as South Korea are also bracing for steep U.S. tariffs on autos and auto parts, as Trump has ordered a national security probe into the sector, which is expected to be completed this month.

Reporting by Hyunjoo Jin and Jane Chung in SEOUL; Marius Zaharia in HONG KONG; Hallie Gu and Dominique Patton in BEIJING; John Ruwitch, Andrew Galbraith, Luoyan Liu and Winni Zhou in SHANGHAI; Writing by Tony Munroe; Editing by Richard Borsuk

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