US-China tensions spell trouble
2018-04-02, LI XIANG

Leading economists and business leaders have voiced concerns about rising trade tensions between China and the United States, warning that an escalating trade war would be disruptive for both economies and would threaten global growth.

The prospect of damaging the economic relationship between the world’s two largest economies and the potential consequences of the trade tensions were among the focuses of participants at the China Development Forum 2018 held in Beijing on March 24-26.

Nobel-prize winning economist Joseph Stiglitz predicted that a trade war would induce pain on the US economy as the country has become “very dependent” on low-cost imports.

The US economist and Columbia University professor said a trade war with China will create “a large negative supply shock” for the US, which could be constrained in what it can do to absorb the economic disturbance.

“If the tariffs imposed on Chinese textiles and apparel increase, the cost of living in the US will go up, the Federal Reserve by its mind-set will increase interest rates, which will slow the economy and create unemployment,” he said.

Stiglitz said China will be better positioned than the US to weather the trade tension, as the country has increasingly shifted toward domestically driven demand and can use government projects to increase demand in areas that might suffer.

Lawrence Summers, a US economist and former US Treasury secretary, called for discussions to move beyond commercial concerns and to focus more on the long-term characteristics of the US-China relationship.

Business leaders from multinational companies also addressed the potential impact of intensified China-US trade tensions on global growth and the financial markets.

The stock markets have responded with volatility since US President Donald Trump signed a memorandum on March 22 that could impose tariffs on up to $60 billion in Chinese imports.

Sergio Ermotti, chief executive of UBS Group, said that the trade situation between the two countries needs to be taken seriously, as it will have international ramifications. He said an escalation of the trade tensions could drive down global growth and companies could suffer.

“For the time being, we do not expect the measures so far to have a major effect on the economies and the financial markets, but if things move beyond where we are today, that will be our concern,” Ermotti said.

Pascal Lamy, former director-general of the World Trade Organization, said history has proved that trade wars are a “negative-sum game” and improvements to the existing multilateral trading system are necessary, including further market opening and better discipline on subsidies, investment and public procurement.

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