Trump seeks tariffs on $60b Chinese goods

David Lawder and Michael Martina

US President Donald Trump is seeking to impose tariffs on up to $US60 billion ($A76.3 billion) of Chinese imports and will target the technology and telecommunications sectors, according to two people who have discussed the issue with the administration.

A third source said the tariffs, associated with a "Section 301" intellectual property investigation under the 1974 US Trade Act that began in August last year, could come "in the very near future".

While the tariffs would be chiefly targeted at information technology, consumer electronics and telecoms, they could be much broader and the list could eventually run to 100 products.

Washington is targeting Chinese high technology companies to punish them for China's investment policies that effectively force US companies to give up their technology secrets in exchange for being allowed to operate in the country along with other allegations of intellectual property theft.

China runs a $US375 billion trade surplus with the United States and when President Xi Jinping's top economic adviser visited Washington recently, the administration pressed him to come up with a way of reducing that number.

Trump came to office on a protectionist agenda and his first action as president was to pull the United States out of the 14-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

He has started talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and most recently imposed tariffs on steel and aluminium imports.

While the tariffs on steel and aluminium, announced last week by Trump, are viewed as relatively insignificant in terms of imports and exports, moves to target China directly risk a direct and harsh response from Beijing.

The news website Politico earlier reported that the US Trade Representative's office had presented Trump with a package of $30 billion in tariffs last week, but Trump told aides that this wasn't high enough.

One business source who had discussed the issue with the White House said the figure had now grown to about $60 billion, with a potentially wider array of products under consideration.

A second person, who is an industry lobbyist in Washington said the process was being led by Peter Navarro, an avowed protectionist, who has accused American companies of conniving with the Chinese state, and by Commerce Secretary Robert Lighthizer, who also favours tariffs as a tool.

While complaints about China's abuse of intellectual property rights are not confined to the United States, Trump's global steel and aluminium tariffs announced last week complicate Washington's efforts to recruit allies to help put pressure on China.

The White House declined to comment on the size or timing of any move.