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Trade War

China to cut auto tariff to 15%, as US dials up pressure

Trump hints at 'important announcements' after talks among top trade officials

A BMW X7 concept car is shown at the Beijing motor show in April. BMW exports sport utility vehicles from the U.S. to China.   © Reuters

BEIJING/WASHINGTON -- China is preparing to slash its tariff on U.S. vehicles to 15% from 40%, it was learned Tuesday, as Beijing moves to advance trade talks with the Trump administration.

The news comes after Chinese Vice Premier Liu He talked with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin by phone earlier in the day.

"Very productive conversations going on with China! Watch for some important announcements!" U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted, following the talks.

Yet the cease-fire in the trade war -- agreed to by Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in Argentina on Dec. 1 -- remains fragile, as reports emerged Tuesday that Washington is preparing a host of measures to expose economic espionage by China.

The Washington Post reports that the U.S. Justice Department this week is expected to announce the indictments of hackers suspected of participating in an espionage campaign run by Chinese intelligence targeting American networks.

The administration also plans to declassify intelligence relating to economic espionage, with multiple agencies criticizing China, the Post reported.

The potential reduction in the automobile tariff, which would bring the levies on U.S.-made cars in line with other imported vehicles, was first reported by Bloomberg. The proposal to reduce the duty will be reviewed by China's cabinet soon.

Beijing lowered its tariff on all imported vehicles to 15% from 25% on July 1, but imposed an additional duty of 25 percentage points on American autos just five days later as part of a package of retaliatory tariffs, bringing the total rate to 40%.

The two countries are starting to work toward de-escalating the trade war after the leaders' meeting in Buenos Aires. Trump tweeted soon after the summit that China had agreed to "reduce and remove" tariffs on U.S. cars, though Beijing did not confirm this at the time.

China already has agreed to increase its energy and agricultural imports from the U.S.

"I just heard today that they're buying tremendous amounts of soybeans. They are starting, just starting now," Trump said in an interview with Rueters on Tuesday. China imposed tariffs on U.S. soybeans in July.

The Trump administration is also engaged in trade talks with the EU and Japan. He said that his threat of up to 25% tariffs on automobile imports is still on the table.

"It depends on how we do with the trade negotiations. If we don't do well, that's one of the options that we have," he said.

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