US Businesses Warn "Reckoning Is Coming" If Trump Moves Ahead With $200BN China Tariffs

With the deadline for the comment period for Trump's proposed tariffs on an additional $200 billion of Chinese goods passing last night, investors and businesses around the world are bracing for a long-anticipated financial gut punch as President Trump prepares to move ahead with the levies - damn the torpedoes.

And while everybody and their pet rabbit who has been paying even the slightest attention to the flow of headlines over the past three months should have known by now that the comment period was merely a formality, many American tech companies (many of whom will experience a significant disruption to their supply chains as a result of the tariffs) are making a last-ditch effort to persuade Trump to give trade talks another shot.

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But as far as the angles go, the coalition has picked a good one: In their letter, several tech giants warned that the levies could adversely impact the US's ability to roll out key tech priorities like the next-generation wireless technology known as 5G.

Here's Bloomberg:

On Thursday, Cisco Systems Inc., Hewlett-Packard Enterprise Co., and other technology companies sent a letter to U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer urging the administration to avoid imposing more tariffs. By increasing duties on telecommunications networking gear, the administration would raise the cost of accessing the Internet and slow the roll-out of next-generation wireless technologies, the companies said.

Manufacturers and small and mid-sized firms, in particular, can’t quickly adjust and the tariffs imposed so far haven’t led to any meaningful concessions, a coalition of the National Retail Federation and 150 organizations said in separate comments to Lighthizer. The administration should cease further tariffs actions and give another shot at talks for a trade deal with with China, it said.

"Tit-for-tat tariffs are counterproductive and so far have only produced increased costs for American businesses, farmers, importers, exporters and consumers," the coalition said.

Yet even as the administration wages battles on several fronts, including Kavanaugh's confirmation hearings and its latest war with the press, Trump has showed no signs of backing down. In a recent interview, Trump reiterated his claim that China has taken advantage of the US for too long, and that it's time for America to assert itself and put a stop to predatory trade practices. The tariffs could be formally imposed as soon as Friday, though it's also likely that they will be implemented in stages, as was the last round of tariffs on $50 billion of imports. Trump has pursued the tariffs as retaliation for China's coerced expropriation of proprietary tech from US firms seeking to do business on the Mainland. And of course, China has vowed to respond with tariffs on some $60 billion of US goods.

"We think there’s a high likelihood it happens sometime soon," said Josh Kallmer, executive vice president for policy at the Information Technology Industry Council, referring to levies on $200 billion in goods. "It’s becoming a lot more difficult for the administration to do what it said it’s trying do, which is minimizing harm to consumers."

Tech firms aren't the only ones making this last-ditch effort. The National Retail Federation also urged Trump administration Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to reconsider.

"Tit-for-tat tariffs are counterproductive and so far have only produced increased costs for American businesses, farmers, importers, exporters and consumers," the coalition said.

And though they've avoided serious losses so far, US investors are getting skittish.

Investors in U.S. assets have generally shrugged off the escalating trade war with China, said Kristina Hooper, chief global market strategist at Invesco Ltd., which manages $988 billion in assets. At some point, the duties will start to hurt American companies, she said.

"If we continue on our current trajectory, I do believe we’ll experience some kind of reckoning," Hooper said. "It may take longer to figure out what the repercussions are, but the U.S. will not be unscathed."

While the US and China have "maintained contact" since Vice Minister for Commerce Wang Shouwen visited the US last month, several preceding rounds of talks have proved fruitless. And with Trump pushing a hard line in negotiations with both the EU and Canada, he has few political incentives to take it easy on the Chinese. Once implemented, the US would be imposing tariffs on roughly $250 billion in Chinese goods - equivalent to roughly half of all goods entering the US.

For what it's worth, global investors appear pessimistic as US stock futures followed European and Chinese shares lower ahead of what's expected to be a lackluster payrolls report.

But investors and tech titans would do well to remember that China is already pushing back by continuing to devalue the yuan. And they would also do well to remember what Larry Kudlow said last month: "The ball is in China's court. They could've come to the table with a better offer - but they didn't."

With that in mind, imagine what an increasingly paranoid president Trump - especially in the aftermath of the anonymous NYT Op-Ed this week - would think that backing down now from the trade conflict would do to his credibility.

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