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China takes US to WTO amid escalating trade war

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
A sign of the World Trade Organization (WTO) is seen on its headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland, on September 21, 2018. (Photo by AFP)

China says it has filed a complaint against the United States with the World Trade Organization (WTO), after Washington imposed new tariffs on billions of dollars of Chinese imports in an escalating trade war between the two world powers.

China’s Commerce Ministry said in a statement on Monday that Beijing would defend its legal rights in accordance with the rules of the international organization that limit the tariffs each country is allowed to charge.

The announcement came one day after the US began imposing 15-percent tariffs on a variety of Chinese products. In a retaliatory move, China also began imposing new duties on US crude oil.

“These American tariffs seriously violate the consensus reached by the leaders of our two countries in Osaka,” said the ministry, referring to trade talks between the two sides in the Japanese city in June.

US President Donald Trump and his Chinese counterpart, Xi Jinping, had agreed to “fully engage” on trade when they met in Osaka during the G20 summit.

“The Chinese side is strongly dissatisfied and resolutely opposed to that (the imposition of the new tariffs),” it said. “In accordance with relevant WTO rules, China will firmly safeguard its legitimate rights and interests.”

This is the third complaint China has brought to the WTO over the tariffs.

The US on Friday published a written defense in the first of the three legal cases, saying that Beijing and Washington had agreed the issue should not be judged at the WTO.

The US submission also said its actions were exempt from the organization’s rules because they were “measures necessary to protect public morals” — a clause used in the past to argue for trade restrictions over gambling, animal rights and public broadcasting.

Under the rules of the WTO, the US has 60 days to try to settle the latest dispute. Then China could ask the WTO to adjudicate, a process that would take several years.

If the US is found to have broken the WTO rules, then China will be given approval to take trade sanctions.

The Trump administration has so far imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of Chinese goods.

China has also met every single round of the US tariffs with retaliatory measures of its own, but its countermeasures have been milder.

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