US-China trade war: timeline of key dates and events since July 2018

The US-China trade war began in July 2018 under the administration of then-US president Donald Trump, eventually leading to tariffs on about US$550 billion worth of Chinese goods and US$185 billion worth of US goods.

A phase-one trade deal between the two sides was signed in January 2020, but China would go on to buy less than 60 per cent of the US exports that it had committed to over the two years of the agreement.

US places 25 per cent duties on around US$34 billion worth of imports from China, including cars, hard disks and aircraft parts. China retaliates by imposing a 25 per cent tariff on 545 goods originating from the US worth US$34 billion, including agricultural products, automobiles and aquatic products.

Do you have questions about the biggest topics and trends from around the world? Get the answers with SCMP Knowledge, our new platform of curated content with explainers, FAQs, analyses and infographics brought to you by our award-winning team.

Washington imposes 25 per cent tariffs on another US$16 billion of Chinese goods, including iron and steel products, electrical machinery, railway products, instruments and apparatus. China responds by applying 25 per cent tariffs on US$16 billion of US goods, including Harley-Davidson motorcycles, bourbon and orange juice.

US places 10 per cent taxes on US$200 billion of Chinese imports. China responds by placing customs duties on US$60 billion worth of US goods.

Presidents Xi Jinping and Donald Trump agree to a 90-day trade truce to allow for further talks to address US concerns after China committed to buying a “very substantial” amount of American exports.

After trade negotiations break down, the US increases tariffs on US$200 billion worth of Chinese goods from 10 per cent to 25 per cent. China responds by announcing that it will increase tariffs on US$60 billion worth of US goods from June 1.

US-China trade war timeline since July 2018

US Department of Commerce announces the addition of Huawei Technologies Co. to its “entity list”, which effectively bans US companies from selling to the Chinese telecommunications company without approval.

The Ministry of Commerce says that it will blacklist foreign businesses or individuals that violate market rules and contractual obligations, or that take “discriminatory measures” to hurt Chinese business’ rights and interests, as well as national security and interests.

Ministry of Finance says the move, with duties to rise to “25, 20 and 10 per cent”, is a response to “unilateralism and trade protectionism”.

Donald Trump says the outcome is “better than expected”, with China saying the US agreed not to impose any further tariffs on Chinese goods.

The US quickly labels China after the yuan falls below the key threshold of 7 to the US dollar, a level the PBOC had previously defended. It marks the yuan’s first dip below the psychologically important level since 2008.

Donald Trump announces that planned levies on many of the US$300 billion worth of Chinese products threatened to start in September 2019 have either been delayed or removed, while levies of 10 per cent on US$155 billion worth of products such as phones, laptop computers and video game consoles will be delayed until December 15.

China announces tariffs of 5 and 10 per cent on US$75 billion worth of US goods from September 1 to December 15. China also confirms that it will reinstate tariffs on US cars and car parts from December 15.

Research from Oxford Economics suggests that new US tariffs on China – including the knock-on effect on sentiment – would reduce Chinese growth by about 0.2 percentage points in 2019 and a further 0.3 percentage points the next year. It cut its 2020 growth estimate to 5.7 per cent, well below the 6.0 per cent minimum growth rate set by the government for this year.

China announces that it will offer exemptions to 16 types of US imports from additional tariffs, which include products such as pesticides, animal feeds, lubricants and cancer drugs. Donald Trump agrees to delay new tariffs on US$250 billion worth of Chinese goods from October 1-15 as a goodwill gesture to avoid the 70th anniversary of the People’s Republic of China.

US President Donald Trump says his negotiators have reached a “substantial phase-one deal” that will delay the implementation of more US tariffs on Chinese imports after two days of high-level trade negotiations that aimed to move the two countries closer to a conclusion of a bruising bilateral trade war.

With provisions covering purchase commitments, financial market access, intellectual property protection and enforcement, the phase-one trade deal is finalised by US President Donald Trump and China’s chief trade negotiator, Vice-Premier Liu He.

China halves additional tariffs on US$75 billion of American products imposed in 2019, including automotive and agricultural goods such as pork, chicken, beef and soybeans, chemicals, crude oil, whiskey and seafood. China also lifts an import ban on live poultry products from the US.

There are 79 products in total on the list, including rare earth mineral ores, aircraft radar equipment, semiconductor parts, medical disinfectants, and a range of precious metals, chemical and petrochemical products.

China’s moves to permit further agricultural imports from the United States are viewed as a step towards meeting the nation’s phase-one trade deal commitments.

Disposable face masks, respirators, Bluetooth tracking devices and musical instruments are among the Chinese exports granted a new short-term exemption to trade war tariffs by the United States.

The US government announces new restrictions on the import of products, especially cotton and apparel, from China’s Xinjiang Uygur autonomous region, citing concerns over the alleged use of forced labour there.

China decides to exempt tariffs on a batch of 16 US products, including fish meal, lubricants and cancer medications, for another year, marking a small concession in a much broader trade war with the United States.

Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps (XPCC), responsible for a third of China’s cotton production, is accused of widespread use of forced labour.

In an interview with The New York Times, US President-elect Joe Biden says the “best China strategy” is to get all traditional US allies in Asia and Europe “on the same page”, and he says this is to be his major priority “in the opening weeks” of his presidency.

“For the moment, we have kept the tariffs in place that were put in by the Trump administration … and we’ll evaluate going forward what we think is appropriate,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen tells CNBC, adding that Washington expects Beijing to adhere to its commitments on trade.

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai speak by phone, with Beijing stressing the importance of developing bilateral trade after a “candid and constructive” exchange.

Both sides agree that China-US economic relations are “very important”, and discussions include the macro economic situation, as well as bilateral and multilateral cooperation “in an attitude of equality and mutual respect”.

A further “candid and pragmatic exchange of views” takes place between China and the United States, this time between Commerce Minister Wang Wentao and his American counterpart, Gina Raimondo.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has no intention of resuming the US-China Strategic and Economic Dialogue (S&ED) mechanism.

“My own personal view is that tariffs were not put in place on China in a way that was very thoughtful,” US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen tells The New York Times.

Analysts say factories and industries in China will benefit from the Biden administration’s “targeted tariff-exclusion process”, but US policy is still more focused on supporting American companies than it is on strengthening bilateral trade.

Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai speak by telephone in a meeting that Washington characterises as a “test” of whether direct engagement will help address its concerns about Beijing’s trade practices.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says that tariffs tend to boost domestic prices and raise costs for consumers and for firms from inputs such as aluminium and steel, which means lowering tariffs would have a “disinflationary” effect.

Sinopec, China’s state-owned oil giant, signs a contract with the US Venture Global LNG to buy 4 million tonnes of LNG annually for 20 years.

Statements released by both sides after a meeting between Chinese President Xi Jinping and US President Joe Biden – which lasted more than 3½ hours – describe it as a candid exchange, with Beijing saying it had been effective in improving mutual understanding.

“I’d like to be able to be in a position where I can say they’re meeting the commitments, more than the commitments, to be able to lift something, but we’re not there yet,” US President Joe Biden says.

The World Trade Organization (WTO) authorises China to impose US$645 million of compensatory tariffs against the United States in a ruling expected to receive a cool reception in Washington.

Report says China bought only 57 per cent of the US exports that it committed to purchase under the phase-one trade deal.

The move applies to 352 products on which Washington first imposed levies in 2018, when then-president Donald Trump started a trade war with Beijing.

US Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen says lifting tariffs on certain Chinese goods could help alleviate the high inflation.

The notification, part of a legal requirement to review the tariffs four years after they were first put into place, puts the burden on US businesses benefiting from those tariffs to speak out and say that they want the policy to continue, the office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) says.

“We’re discussing that right now,” US President Joe Biden said. “I’m telling you, we’re discussing it, and no decision has been made on it.”

This article originally appeared in the South China Morning Post (SCMP), the most authoritative voice reporting on China and Asia for more than a century. For more SCMP stories, please explore the SCMP app or visit the SCMP’s Facebook and Twitter pages. Copyright © 2022 South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.

Copyright (c) 2022. South China Morning Post Publishers Ltd. All rights reserved.