Energy sector on edge as Trump, China impose tariffs

Source: Christa Marshall and Hannah Northey, E&E News reporters • Posted: Monday, June 18, 2018

President Trump slapped tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports last week, including nuclear reactors, batteries, vehicles and agricultural equipment.

The action prompted angry retaliatory threats from China, with the country’s commerce ministry vowing to “immediately introduce taxation measures of the same scale and the same strength.”

In a statement, the White House said “trade between our nations, however, has been very unfair for a very long time. This situation is no longer sustainable.”

The 25 percent tariffs are set to hit two sets of “industrially significant” technologies cited by the U.S. trade representative, including 818 products originally floated in April. Those include nuclear reactors, components of aircraft engines and various types of batteries, including lithium-based products. A second list includes various types of vehicles, motorcycles and transportation equipment. It will undergo further review and a public comment period.

The list resulted from a multi-month investigation and the earlier release of a report from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative documenting China’s support for its industries (E&E News PM, March 22).

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said China’s government is aggressively working to undermine America’s high-tech industries and through unfair practices and policies such as “Made in China 2025,” a program aiming to increase the country’s competitiveness in manufacturing and technology via subsidies and other policies.

China said it regrets that the United States is “fickle” and wanting to provoke a trade war after several rounds of consultations.

“This move is not only damaging bilateral interests but also undermining the world trade order,” the commerce ministry said. It called on all countries to take joint actions to “put an end to this outdated and regressive behavior.”

President Trump later made a surprise appearance on the North Lawn today, where he appeared on “Fox & Friends” and pushed back on concerns that he was starting a trade war.

The president said Chinese President Xi Jinping is a “great man, a wonderful guy,” but the United States lost $500 billion in trade deficits last year.

“The trade war was started many years ago by them, and the United States lost … there is no trade war,” Trump said. “We have the great brain power in Silicon Valley, and China and others steal those secrets.”

House Ways and Means Chairman Kevin Brady (R-Texas) said in a statement that he was concerned the new tariffs would hurt American manufacturers, farmers, workers and consumers more than China.

“These tariffs make it more difficult to sell more ‘Made in America’ products globally and expose many of our industries — particularly agriculture and chemicals — to devastating retaliation,” Brady said.

It may take some time to sort out the full impact on the energy sector, although some analysts have said that higher prices in general could have a ripple effect.

Ravi Manghani, an analyst at GTM Research, said many of the battery-related tariffs are on primary cells, such as those that go into electronics, not the rechargeable ones on stationary storage and electric vehicles.

Broader tariffs on “all-storage” parts include lithium-ion components but may do little damage to U.S. industry, since China provides a small percentage of U.S. imports.

“U.S. manufacturers have multiple alternatives from Japan and South Korea,” Manghani said.