Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS
Donald Trump. Picture: REUTERS

Washington — President Donald Trump threatened to hit back if China targets politically potent US agricultural products for countertariffs, following an escalation in his trade war with Beijing.

"There will be great and fast economic retaliation against China if our farmers, ranchers and/or industrial workers are targeted!" Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday morning.

Trump ordered his administration to levy 10% tariffs on about $200bn in Chinese goods next week and to more than double the rate in January 2019 if Beijing refuses to offer trade concessions.

China said it would retaliate for the latest round of duties, which come on top of a 25% tariff already imposed on about $50bn in Chinese goods.

That includes retaliatory tariffs on $60bn in US goods that will take effect on September 24, China’s ministry of finance said on Tuesday. China has also filed a complaint with the World Trade Organisation over the US tariffs.

Beijing’s plans for tariffs on $60bn of US goods includes an additional 5% duty on about 1,600 kinds of US products including smaller aircraft, computers and textiles and an extra 10% on more than 3,500 items including chemicals, meat, wheat, wine and LNG. In a previous announcement from August, those products had faced extra tariffs of up to 25%

White House spokesperson Lindsay Walters declined to comment on the Chinese actions but pointed to a pair of tweets on Tuesday morning by the president threatening further escalation of the dispute: "China has openly stated that they are actively trying to impact and change our election by attacking our farmers, ranchers and industrial workers because of their loyalty to me. What China does not understand is that these people are great patriots and fully understand that

"China has been taking advantage of the US on trade for many years. They also know that I am the one that knows how to stop it. There will be great and fast economic retaliation against China if our farmers, ranchers and/or industrial workers are targeted!"

The president’s posts appeared to recognise the potential political harm to him and his party if China targets US agriculture.

Republicans are facing long odds in their quest to retain control of the House of Representatives in November’s mid-term elections and their narrow advantage in the Senate will hinge largely on winning seats in states where agriculture is a significant industry.

The 10% US tariff will take effect on September 24 and an escalation to 25% in tariffs in January was delayed in order to give US companies an opportunity to adjust their supply chains, two senior administration officials said on Monday.

Trump also wants to end trade practices he says have forced US companies to surrender technology.