Chip makers, auto makers and soybean farmers are among those facing the brunt of tit-for-tat tariffs imposed by the U.S. and China in unexpected ways.
President Donald Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on about $50 billion of Chinese goods will force American semiconductor companies to pay duties on their own products because of the complexities of global supply chains, according to the Semiconductor Industry Association.
Most chips American companies import from China are designed in the U.S., and some of their components are made domestically before they are shipped to the Asian country for assembly, testing and packaging. The group called the tariffs “counterproductive.”
Meanwhile, Beijing’s retaliatory move to include American-made vehicles on its list of goods subject to 25% tariffs means that the reprieve auto makers appeared to have received last month, when China said it would reduce import duties on cars, never got off the ground. In May, China said that beginning July 1, it would cut tariffs on vehicle imports to 15% from 25%, a longstanding rate, to quell the Trump administration’s complaints of a trade imbalance.
German auto makers such as BMW AG and Daimler AG’s Mercedes-Benz, as well as electric-car maker Tesla Inc. and Ford Motor Co. , would have benefited from the lowering of Chinese duties. Those companies collectively sold about 240,000 U.S.-built vehicles in China last year, according to research firm LMC Automotive.
The effect of tariffs on U.S.-bound autos made in China would be more muted. Two car companies— General Motors Co. and Zhejiang Geely Holding Group Co.’s Volvo brand—accounted for all of the roughly 54,000 vehicles imported to the U.S. last year out of 17.2 million sold, LMC said. GM dealers last year sold about 40,000 China-made Buick Envision sport-utility vehicles, as well as a few hundred Cadillac hybrid sedans, representing about 1% of GM’s U.S. sales.
Still, duties on Chinese imports would disrupt recent moves by Ford and GM to use their Chinese factories to supply limited numbers of cars to the U.S. Those arrangements allow the Detroit companies to add new, niche models to U.S. showrooms while avoiding capital outlays at their North American plants.
For American farmers, China’s plan to slap levies on U.S. soybeans is a problem many were hoping to avoid. With more than 90% of this year’s soybean crop already in the ground, farmers from Arkansas to Wisconsin face being shut out of the world’s biggest market for the oilseeds, used to make animal feed and vegetable oil.
Agribusiness firms that dominate crop exports, like Cargill Inc., Archer Daniels Midland Co. and Bunge Ltd. , which already have seen soybean sales to Chinese buyers slow, may have to find alternate markets for U.S.-grown oilseeds, if the duties prompt China to increase purchases of Brazilian soybeans. The U.S. is the second-largest soybean producer after Brazil, the U.S. Agriculture Department estimates.
“Retaliatory measures will not solve the concerns raised by these two governments,” a Cargill spokeswoman said. “The impact of trade conflict between the world’s two largest economies will lead to serious consequences for economic growth and job creation and hurt those that are most vulnerable across the globe.”
China’s massive demand for soybeans has become a cornerstone for the U.S. agricultural sector. Last year China imported about $14 billion worth of soybeans, nearly two-thirds of all U.S. soybean exports, but a protracted trade battle could change that. An April study by Purdue University estimated that a 25% tariff on U.S. soybeans could cut American exports of the oilseed to China by 48% or more and wind up shrinking U.S. production by 11% to 15%.
“The one thing we don’t want to lose is China,” said Davie Stephens, vice president of the American Soybean Association, speaking from the cab of his tractor as he planted soybeans near Clinton, Ky.
Some industries managed to mute the impact of the tariff by lobbying to have certain items excluded from the U.S.’s tariffs list. The National Council of Textile Organizations said it managed to get almost all textile machinery built in China excluded from the tariff after it was included in the original list. The machinery is used by U.S.-based fabric and yarn manufacturers and would “hinder the competitiveness of U.S. textile manufacturers” if it carried a tariff, said Auggie Tantillo, president of the textile group.
The medical devices industry too will see a minor impact, on about $836 million in medical devices and diagnostic-related products that are imported from China, according to a spokesman for AdvaMed, a U.S. trade group representing device-makers.
The administration’s initial tariff proposal in April would have affected $2.8 billion worth of medical-technology imports from China, AdvaMed said. The U.S. imports about $6 billion in Chinese medical devices annually, according to Glenn Novarro, an RBC Capital Markets LLC analyst.
AdvaMed urged the U.S. trade representative to remove medical technology from its list of targeted products, “due to concerns about the adverse effects on our competitiveness, as well as potential longer-term impact on patient access to medical technology,” the spokesman said in an email. In May, 40 U.S. lawmakers signed a letter urging the administration to spare the industry from the tariffs.
The efforts appeared to pay off, with the administration removing or nearly removing products including defibrillators, orthopedic implants and hearing aids, Mr. Novarro said in a note to clients on Friday.