China exempts some US goods from tariffs

Yawen Chen and Dominique Patton

China has announced its first batch of tariff exemptions for 16 types of US products, days ahead of a planned meeting between trade negotiators from the two countries to try and de-escalate their bruising tariff row.

The exemptions will apply to US goods including some anti-cancer drugs and lubricants, as well as the animal feed ingredients whey and fish meal, the Ministry of Finance said in a statement on its website on Wednesday.

Beijing said in May that it would start a waiver program, amid growing worries over the cost of the protracted trade war on its already slowing economy.

Some analysts view the move as a friendly gesture but don't see it as a signal that both sides are readying a deal.

"The exemption could be seen as a gesture of sincerity towards the US ahead of negotiations in October but is probably more a means of supporting the economy," ING's Greater China economist Iris Pang wrote in a note.

The exempted list pales in comparison to over 5000 types of US products that are already subject to China's additional tariffs.

Moreover, major US imports, such as soybeans and pork, are still subject to hefty additional duties, as China ramped up imports from Brazil and other supplying countries.

Beijing has said it would work on exempting some US products from tariffs if they are not easily substituted from elsewhere. The United States is by far China's largest supplier of whey, which is an important ingredient in piglet feed and difficult to source in large volumes from elsewhere.

Analysts have noted that with duties on soybeans and other key imports such as US-made cars, China is taking aim at a key political support base of US President Donald Trump, mainly the factories and farms across the Midwest and South at a time of receding momentum in the world's top economy.

China has imposed several rounds of duties on US goods in retaliation against US Section 301 tariffs, beginning last year in July and August with a 25 per cent levy on about $US50 billion of US imports.

In all, the world's two largest economies have slapped tit-for-tat tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars worth of goods in a bitter trade war that has dragged on for well over a year and raised the spectre of a global recession.

ING's Pang noted the US had also exempted imports of 110 Chinese products from tariffs in July, including high-value products such as medical equipment and parts.

Wednesday's announcement comes before Chinese trade deputies are expected to meet with their US counterparts in mid-September in Washington.

That will be followed by highly-anticipated minister-level meetings in early October in the US capital, involving Chinese Vice Premier Liu He, US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

For two years, the Trump administration has sought to pressure China to make sweeping changes to its policies on intellectual property protection, forced transfers of technology to Chinese firms, industrial subsidies and market access.