The ministry has released a draft list of products that would attract these Chinese import duties. Named lines include fresh or chilled boned pig forelegs, pig hind legs cuts, frozen whole and half carcases, frozen pork bones, frozen pork liver and frozen pork chops, with a catch-all notification that other fresh, frozen or cold pork lines could be added.
The Chinese Government appears to have taken its cue from the European Union (EU) in justifying these duties, which would be safeguard measures. They would only be legal under World Trade Organisation (WTO) agreements if the US duties themselves were economic safeguard duties.
This is contested. The USA has said it needs to impose these metal duties to build up its steel and aluminium sectors on national security grounds – an argument dismissed as bogus by the EU. Now, China has made the same point, with a ministry of commerce statement saying “the US measures violated the relevant WTO rules,” and have not actually met the “safety exception” requirement regarding national security. Beijing regards the US measures as pure economic protectionism.
Moreover, despite the fact that China actually sold just 1.1% of its steel exports (800,000 tonnes) to the USA in 2017, the ministry said the US tariffs “actually constitutes a safeguard measure and seriously violates the interests of the Chinese side”.
As a result, “to effectively protect China’s interests, China intends to suspend substantive equal concessions and other obligations to the United States,” said the ministry.
It is now consulting with other ministries, local governments, business associations, companies and Chinese citizens on which of these counter-measures should go ahead, and which would cause the China economy more harm than good and should be dropped. Officials want answers by 31 March before the ministry of commerce considers its next steps.
Assuming it goes ahead, talks with the USA would then follow and, if these do not lead to the USA backing down over the metal duties, China would impose 15% duties on fruit, nuts, wine and steel products. If this did not have the desired effect, then China would impose its planned meat duties to tighten the screw on Washington.
“The United States' practice of restricting the import of products based on ‘national security’ has severely damaged the multilateral trade system represented by the WTO and seriously interfered with the normal international trade order,” claimed the ministry of commerce note.