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US trade tensions rattle China's largest import-export fair

Date 19-Apr-2018
Subject US trade tensions rattle China's largest import-export fair

Calls to tame a trade spat between Beijing and Washington emerged this week from China's largest import and export fair, a deal factory that serves as a bellwether for the country's short-term commercial prospects.

If Washington makes good on threats of punitive tariffs against Chinese goods, "our company -- which exports mostly to the U.S. -- will suffer operationally," a Zhejiang Province machinery maker said, voicing concerns shared by many peers.

The Canton Fair, which began here Sunday, hosts 200,000 buyers from around the globe seeking contracts with 25,000 Chinese businesses. Deals totaling about $30 billion typically are inked during the expo, held twice yearly. Americans comprise about 15% of buyers, making them a potent force at the event.

The upswing in the American economy has helped lift Chinese exports to the country, especially since last year. In the first quarter of 2018, dollar-denominated exports to the U.S. rose 15% on the year to $99.9 billion, and the trade surplus jumped 19% to $58.2 billion, China's General Administration of Customs reported Friday.

But wary of the trade deficit with China and accusing the Asian country of intellectual property theft, the administration of U.S. President Donald Trump has announced plans for tariffs on about 1,300 Chinese imports including televisions and machinery, possibly worth around $50 billion.

Companies caught in the middle are scrambling to avoid potential damage. TCL, a television manufacturer based in the southern province of Guangdong, is considering an expansion of production facilities in Mexico while curbing exports to the U.S. Jiangsu Province's Panda Electronics Group has said its only escape route would be to temporarily export television parts to Mexico and have a Mexican business assemble TVs for shipment to the U.S.

Businesses on both sides of the Pacific stand to lose from a long standoff between Washington and Beijing. One 30-something U.S. buyer expects no one to benefit from such tariffs, saying that higher prices would be passed on to consumers.

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