How we got here: a timeline of the US-China trade war


That’s one word that probably best sums up the ongoing tit-for-tat trade conflict between the US and China.

The lengthy back and forth between the US and China has brought multiple promises of an impending trade deal, only to see additional tariffs come into effect.

The trade war between the world’s two largest economies not only carries significant implications for both countries but also for the global economy. And with more tariffs still on the way and the US declaring China a currency manipulator, it doesn’t look like the situation will improve anytime soon.

If you’ve been racking your brain trying to remember how the situation reached its current state, we’re here to help. Here’s a timeline of the key moments in the destabilizing trade relationship between the US and China.

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April 7, 2017

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping meet at the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. They agree to a 100-day plan for trade talks.

July 19, 2017

Officials from the US and China wrap up talks without issuing a joint statement and cancel a news conference, which many analysts take as an indication of significant disagreement between the two sides.

August 18, 2017

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer starts a formal investigation of China under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974. According to the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR), “the investigation will seek to determine whether acts, policies, and practices of the Government of China related to technology transfer, intellectual property, and innovation are unreasonable or discriminatory and burden or restrict U.S. commerce.”

January 22, 2018

Trump approves tariffs, which will reach up to 50%, on all imported washing machines and solar panels, effective February 7, 2018.

March 1, 2018

Trump announces his intention to introduce tariffs of 25% for imported steel and 10% for aluminum, including products from China. A proclamation authorizing the tariffs is signed March 8, 2018.

March 22, 2018

Trump signs an executive memorandum to impose tariffs on up to $60 billion worth of Chinese imports, calling the action “the first of many.”

March 23, 2018

In response to the steel and aluminum tariffs, China’s commerce ministry creates a proposed list of US products it intends to target for retaliation duties.

April 2, 2018

China starts imposing new tariffs of up to 25% on 128 American products, worth approximately $3 billion. The affected goods include wine, fresh fruit, dried fruit, nuts, steel pipes, and pork. The action is retaliation for US tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

April 3, 2018

The Office of the USTR releases a proposed list of Chinese goods targeted for additional tariffs. The list covers approximately 1,300 various tariff lines worth around $50 billion.

April 5, 2018

The White House releases a statement from the President, saying that “in light of China’s unfair retaliation,” the USTR will consider whether imposing another $100 billion in tariffs “would be appropriate.”

May 20, 2018

In an interview with Fox News, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin says negotiators from the US and China are putting the trade war “on hold” while they continue working on the terms of a bilateral trade deal and that both sides agree not to impose additional tariffs while talks continue. According to a joint statement released the day prior, China would “significantly increase” purchases of US goods and services to reduce the trade deficit.

May 29, 2018

After a brief trade truce, the White House releases a statement saying the Trump administration is moving ahead with additional tariffs against China.

June 15, 2018

The USTR announces that $50 billion worth of Chinese goods will be subject to 25% tariffs, with the first round coming into effect July 6. China responds almost immediately, announcing 25% tariffs on 659 American products worth $50 billion.

June 18, 2018

Trumps asks the USTR to identify $200 billion worth of Chinese products for additional tariffs at 10%. The President says the duties will go into effect if China follows through with its planned retaliation measure.

June 19, 2018

The White House releases a report accusing “China’s economic aggression” of threatening “not only the U.S. economy but also the global economy as a whole.”

July 6, 2018

The first round of 25% duties on Chinese products, worth $34 billion, takes effect. China retaliates with matching tariffs on US goods of the same value. China’s ministry of commerce accuses the US of violating World Trade Organization rules and says it has “launched the largest trade war in economic history.”

July 10, 2018

The Office of the USTR releases a proposed list of Chinese goods valued at $200 billion that it plans to target with 10% tariffs.

August 1, 2018

Lighthizer confirms the US is considering increasing the proposed tariff rate on $200 billion worth of Chinese imports from 10% to 25%.

August 3, 2018

China announces plans to impose tariffs of up to 25% on $60 billion worth of American products if the US follows through with higher tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports.

August 23, 2018

The US and China both implement the second round of 25% tariffs. Both actions target goods worth $16 billion.

September 22, 2018

China cancels scheduled trade talks with the US due to the impending implementation of new tariffs.

September 24, 2018

The Trump administration implements 10% tariffs on $200 billion of Chinese imports, bringing the total amount subject to tariffs to $250 billion. The administration says the rate will increase to 25% on January 1, 2019.

China responds with new duties on $60 billion worth of US goods.

December 1, 2018

Trump and Xi meet on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Argentina and agree to a 90-day tariff ceasefire. Trump agrees to hold off on the January 1 tariff increase on $200 billion of Chinese goods until March while talks between the two countries continue. China commits to purchase a “very substantial,” but unspecified, amount of US products, according to a statement from the White House.

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February 24, 2019

Citing “substantial progress” in trade talks with China, Trump extends the March deadline for increasing tariffs on Chinese goods. The President says in a tweet that if “both sides make additional progress,” a summit will be held at Mar-a-Lago with Xi to “conclude an agreement.”

February 25, 2019

Trump tweets that a trade deal with China is in the “advanced stages” and that the relationship between the two countries is “very strong.”

March 20, 2019

Trump says the US may leave tariffs on Chinese goods for a “substantial period” to ensure Beijing’s compliance with any trade deal. The statement counters China’s demand that all US tariffs on Chinese products be lifted as part of any agreement.

April 4, 2019

Before meeting with Chinese Vice Premier Liu He at the White House, Trump tells reporters that a trade deal between the two countries could be announced within four weeks.

May 5, 2019

In a series of tweets, Trump says the trade talks with China are moving “too slowly” as Chinese officials “attempt to renegotiate.” He announces that tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods would increase to 25% from 10%. He also notes that an additional $325 billion of products from China “remain untaxed, but will be shortly, at a rate of 25%.”

May 10, 2019

US tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports increase to 25% from 10%.

May 13, 2019

In retaliation for the latest tariff increase, Beijing announces it will raise duties on $60 billion worth of US goods starting June 1.

June 10, 2019

Trump threatens to impose tariffs on an additional $300 billion worth of Chinese products if Xi doesn’t meet with him during the G20 summit in Japan.

June 29, 2019

After meeting on the sidelines of the G20 summit in Japan, Trump and Xi agree to another tariff ceasefire. Trump says that in exchange for the US holding off on additional tariffs, China plans to purchase more American agricultural goods.

July 11, 2019

Trump tweets that China isn’t keeping its promise to buy more agricultural goods from the US. “China is letting us down in that they have not been buying the agricultural products from our great Farmers that they said they would.”

July 16, 2019

Despite reaching a trade truce with China, Trump says he hasn’t ruled out imposing additional duties on Chinese imports. “We have a long way to go as far as tariffs where China is concerned, if we want. We have another $325 billion we can put a tariff on if we want.”

The same day, the World Trade Organization (WTO) rules on a long-standing dispute between the US and China. The WTO announces that the US could face sanctions from China over certain tariffs that contravene international regulations. Though the matter isn’t related to the current trade dispute, there is much speculation the issue will further escalate tensions with trade negotiations.

July 30, 2019

Trade talks between the US and China resume. Lighthizer and Mnuchin travel to Shanghai for meetings with their Chinese counterparts. The negotiations end with little progress aside from a commitment to continue discussions in September.

August 1, 2019

Trump reveals a plan to impose 10% tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese products as of September 1.

August 5, 2019

The trade dispute takes a significant turn when the US Treasury Department labels China a currency manipulator. The designation is made the same day China lets its currency, the yuan, to drop to its weakest level in more than a decade.

Beijing also announces that Chinese companies have stopped purchasing American farm products.

August 13, 2019

The Office of the USTR announces the delay of planned tariffs on certain consumer goods from China until December 15, 2019. According to a statement from the USTR, some other products would be removed from the tariff list altogether, based on “health, safety, national security and other factors.”

August 23, 2019

China announces it will impose tariffs ranging from 5% to 10% on $75 billion worth of US goods, which it plans to implement in two phases – September 1 and December 15. China also reveals that a 25% tariff on US cars and a 5% tariff on auto parts will go into effect December 15.

In response to China’s announcement, Trump says that starting October 1, the US will increase tariffs from 25% to 30% on $250 billion in Chinese goods already being taxed. He also says that the incoming tariffs on the remaining $300 billion in imports from China will increase from 10% to 15%.

Just like the trade war, this article is ongoing and will continue to be updated as key happenings take place.

September 1, 2019

The US starts imposing 15% tariffs on $125 billion worth of Chinese imports, including an array of consumer goods. The increase brings the average US tax on goods from China to 21.2%, up from 3.1% when Trump took office.

China also begins imposing tariffs of 5% to 10% on about $75 billion in American products, including soybeans and crude oil.

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September 4, 2019

According to a statement from China’s commerce ministry, the two countries will return to the negotiating table in early October in Washington. The talks will be the first high-level, in-person discussions since the meetings held in Shanghai at the end of July.

September 11, 2019

In a tweet, President Trump says he’s delaying plans to increase tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese imports by two weeks to October 15 as a “gesture of goodwill.”

That announcement comes after news from China that 16 types of American products will be exempt from additional tariffs. The exemption begins September 17 and will be valid for one year.

September 12, 2019

President Trump announces on Twitter that China is expected to resume purchasing American agricultural products. Beijing confirms that Chinese companies are making inquiries about US farm goods, including pork and soybeans.

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