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Analysts Warn Escalating Sino-American Trade War Could Endanger U.S. LNG; Senate Would Limit Trade Actions

Beijing vowed to retaliate against a new round of tariffs proposed by the White House covering $200 billion of Chinese-made products, including liquefied natural gas (LNG) and offshore oil and natural gas drilling and production platforms, and analysts warned that China could strike back by targeting American LNG and other energy products.

Meanwhile, in a sign that lawmakers are exasperated with President Trump's trade policies, the Senate voted overwhelmingly on Wednesday in favor of a non-binding resolution that could lead to new legislation designed to rein the White House's ability to enact tariffs.

In a translated statement, China's Commerce Ministry said Beijing was "shocked" that the Trump administration released a list of products Tuesday that could be subject to a 10% tariff and called the list's publication "totally unacceptable." The ministry added that China would enact reciprocal tariffs on American imports and file a complaint with the World Trade Organization (WTO).

"In order to safeguard the core interests of the country and the fundamental interests of the people, the Chinese government will, as always, have to make the necessary counter-measures," the ministry said Wednesday. "At the same time, we call on the international community to work together to safeguard the rules of free trade and the multilateral trading system and jointly oppose trade hegemonism."

Other energy products subject to the proposed 10% tariff include natural gas, propane, butanes, liquefied petroleum gases and other gaseous hydrocarbons. Plastics, metals, minerals, chemicals and construction materials -- as well as clothing, food and paper products -- are also on the list.

The office of U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer said it will accept public comments on the proposed tariffs until Aug. 17, and will hold a public hearing Aug. 20-23 at the U.S. International Trade Commission offices in Washington, DC. The tariffs could be enacted sometime after Aug. 30, the deadline for submitting post-hearing rebuttal comments to USTR.

Last month, USTR issued two lists of tariff lines covering Chinese products collectively valued at about $50 billion in 2018 trade values. The first list, which covers about $34 billion worth of Chinese imports, including parts for offshore drilling, took effect last Friday. But the public comment period is still open for the second list of $16 billion in Chinese imports. Beijing immediately retaliated on American imports when the first list of tariffs kicked in.

In a note to clients Wednesday, analysts with ClearView Energy Partners LLC said neither side appears to be backing down and that the aforementioned second list of tariffs from June could take effect by the end of July or early August. They added that the new tariffs proposed Tuesday could begin as soon as the end of August or early September.

"As we have discussed, China's proposed retaliation to the $16 billion per year tranche of 25% tariffs would target the vast majority of U.S. energy exports to China other than LNG," ClearView said. "Given that the U.S. exported only about $130 billion of goods to China during calendar year 2017, we believe Chinese retaliation against last night's proposal could potentially target U.S. LNG and add to tariffs on U.S. energy goods."

In a column published Wednesday in the Washington Examiner, presumably written before the latest round of proposed tariffs was announced, American Petroleum Institute (API) CEO Jack Gerard warned that the U.S. energy, manufacturing and transportation sectors would suffer if China slapped retaliatory tariffs on crude oil, propane and other non-finished products that serve as feedstock for petrochemicals and fuel. Gerard co-wrote the column with American Chemistry Council CEO Cal Dooley and Association of American Railroads CEO Edward Hamberger.

"While we respect the administration's vision for U.S. energy and manufacturing dominance, we also know when U.S. trade policy is bad for business and a threat to our economic security," the CEOs wrote. "Right now, the White House has a critical opportunity to avoid years of damaging impacts to American businesses and consumers by undoing these serious tariff missteps.

"It's already clear that this well-intentioned policy will actually make the United States less competitive, undermine this administration's vision of energy dominance and the manufacturing renaissance, and almost certainly destroy many more jobs than it protects."

The CEOs added that before the Trump administration began enacting tariffs on China, Canada, Mexico and the European Union (EU), "the private sector was poised to invest $1.34 trillion in energy infrastructure to keep pace with surging production...

"Tariffs could stifle hundreds of billions of dollars' worth of projects, including new pipeline infrastructure needed to get oil and natural gas from the prolific Permian Basin to markets. The steel tariffs alone could increase the cost of a 280-mile pipeline by as much as $76 million."

Last May, the EU, Canada and Mexico each took retaliatory steps against the United States after the Trump administration imposed a 25% tariff on steel imports and a 10% tariff on aluminum imports. Both Brussels and Mexico City have since filed complaints with the WTO over the tariffs. Steel and aluminum imported from China have been subject to the tariffs since May 1.

Senate Reprimands Trump

The Senate voted 88-11 Wednesday on a motion by Sen. Bob Corker (R-TN) to instruct conferees working on an appropriations bill with their counterparts in the House of Representatives to include language that could curb Trump's power to enact tariffs. The 11 senators who voted against the motion are all Republicans.

"Today's passage of Senator Corker's motion demonstrates the overwhelming bipartisan support in the Senate for congressional review of new tariffs implemented on national security grounds – including recent tariffs imposed under Section 232 [of the 1962 Trade Expansion Act]," said API spokesman Kyle Isakower.

Last month, Corker, a frequent Trump critic who is not seeking re-election, introduced a bill to amend the Trade Expansion Act by requiring Congressional approval before the president can enact tariffs on national security grounds. The bill, S 3013, was read twice and referred to the Senate Finance Committee but has since stalled. Isakower said API supports the bill.

"We will continue to express our concerns over market interventions that hinder trade that Americans rely on," Isakower said. "Tariffs and quotas on imported specialty steel disrupt the natural gas and oil industry's complex supply chain, harm our energy and national security, and will have a negative impact on U.S. jobs and consumers."

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