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U.S. companies in China are suffering in trade war, survey says

Shipping containers are stacked at the port in Shanghai in April. (Aly Song/Reuters)

BEIJING — The largest U.S. business groups in China issued a plea to President Trump on Thursday: Please stop with the tariffs.

A survey from AmCham China and AmCham Shanghai found that nearly two-thirds of more than 430 U.S. firms in China say the duties Trump placed on billions of dollars of Chinese imports this summer have hurt their businesses.

Nearly half of respondents — who work in retail, food and manufacturing — say production costs have climbed, and 42 percent said they have noticed a decreased demand for their goods.

Just 6 percent, meanwhile, said they would consider moving factories to U.S. soil.

AmCham chairman William Zarit said U.S. business leaders in China want Trump to rethink the levies he has proposed on an additional $200 billion in Chinese imports, including many consumer goods. The new border taxes are expected to take effect this fall. 

“The U.S. administration runs the risk of a downward spiral of attack and counterattack, benefiting no one,” Zarit said in statement. 

Some 64 percent of companies that responded to the AmCham survey, conducted between Aug. 29 and Sept. 5, said the first round of tariffs that Trump slapped on $50 billion in Chinese imports this year have negatively affected their operations, while 63 percent said the same about the equal amount of levies Beijing imposed in retaliation.

In the game of "Trade Wars," perhaps the winning move is not to play. (Video: Daron Taylor, Jhaan Elker/The Washington Post)

Half the respondents reported they had endured more inspections, delayed customs clearance and other forms of heightened regulatory scrutiny. 

Eric Zheng, chairman of AmCham Shanghai, said he supported the administration’s goal to push Beijing into overhauling trade practices that Trump considers unfair. The White House has accused China of forcing U.S. companies to partner with local firms and then stealing their intellectual property, among other grievances. 

“We support President Trump’s efforts to reset U.S.-China trade relations, address long-standing inequities and level the playing field,” Zheng said in a statement. “But we can do so through means other than blanket tariffs.”

Trump seeks to close what he has slammed as a hulking trade deficit. But the Chinese government has thus far refused to budge on the White House’s demands and vowed to retaliate against every American punch. 

China retaliates with tariffs on $16 billion worth of U.S. imports

If Trump follows through with his threat to expand the commercial battle fourfold, Beijing has said it will impose levies of up to 25 percent on 5,207 types of U.S. imports. The list includes industrial parts, chemicals and medical instruments.

Chinese officials have called the targets “measured and restrained” and repeatedly declared that the United States has compelled Beijing to take actions that will ultimately hurt both countries. 

China has also warned it could unleash “qualitative” measures, which U.S. business groups have interpreted as more-burdensome regulations, stalled visas and other red-tape headaches. 

AmCham’s survey results come a day after more than 60 U.S. industry groups launched a coalition called Americans for Free Trade, which aims to halt the White House’s proposed tariffs. The multimillion-dollar campaign, comprising thousands of companies, farmers and manufacturers, argues that the trade war will kill U.S. jobs and raise prices for U.S. households. 

So far, no more trade negotiations are scheduled between the United States and China.

But Larry Kudlow, head of the White House Economic Council, said Wednesday on the Fox Business Network that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin has invited senior Chinese officials to rekindle the talks. 

And Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman Geng Shuang said at a Thursday news conference that Beijing has received the invitation. The two sides are working out the details, he added.

“China has always held that an escalation of the trade conflict,” Geng said, “is not in anyone’s interests.”

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