WASHINGTON — A trade war between the world’s two largest economies officially began on Friday morning as the Trump administration followed through with its threat to impose tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese products, a significant escalation of a fight that could hurt companies and consumers in both the United States and China.
The penalties, which went into effect at 12:01 a.m., will undoubtedly prompt quick retaliation by Beijing. Chinese officials immediately said they would be forced to retaliate, but their statement did not provide specifics. Previously, the Chinese government has said it will tax an equal amount of American exports, including pork, soybeans and automobiles.
The escalation of the trade war from threat to reality is expected to ripple through global supply chains, raise costs for businesses and consumers and roil global stock markets, which have been volatile in anticipation of a prolonged trade fight between the United States and almost everyone else.
On Thursday, President Trump showed no signs of backing down from his fight, saying aboard Air Force One that the first wave of tariffs on $34 billion in goods would quickly be followed by levies on another $16 billion of Chinese products. And Mr. Trump continued to threaten Beijing with escalating tariffs on as much as $450 billion worth of Chinese goods.
For now, it is unclear how — or whether — the trade war might conclude. Mr. Trump’s threats have been met with vows from China to retaliate, a stalemate that will require one side to blink first in order to avoid a protracted fight. With no official talks scheduled between the two countries, and disagreements within the Trump administration about how best to proceed, a quick resolution seems increasingly unlikely.
“At the moment, I don’t see how this ends,” said Edward Alden, a senior fellow at the Council on Foreign Relations. “This is very much in the president’s hands because he’s got advisers that seem divided, some substantively, some tactically. I just don’t think we’ve had any clear signs of the resolution he wants.”