WASHINGTON — President Trump’s promise to take tough action against China’s unfair economic practices was one of his most popular campaign ideas. But as the United States prepares stiff trade measures and China retaliates, stock markets have plummeted and some of America’s biggest companies are pushing back.
Industry giants like General Electric and Goldman Sachs, as well as agricultural companies, have lodged objections with the White House, saying that tariffs on both sides of the Pacific and limitations on investments will cut off American companies from the world’s most lucrative and rapidly growing market.
China imposed tariffs on Monday on more than 100 American products, including pork, fruit, recycled aluminum and steel pipes. Fears of an incipient trade war between the world’s two largest economies sent the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index tumbling 2.23 percent and pushed markets into correction territory. Technology stocks bore the brunt of the slump, as a recent spate of bad news about tech companies like Facebook, Tesla and Amazon spooked investors. Asian markets fell more modestly in early Tuesday trading.
China’s action could be an escalation in a much broader trade dispute. The announcement was a direct response to the Trump administration’s tariffs on imports of steel and aluminum, which were directed at a range of countries, including China.
Since then, the White House has announced another trade measure targeted at China that would place tariffs on at least $50 billion worth of products imported to the United States and would restrict investment flows between the two economic giants. This week, the Trump administration is expected to announce a list of Chinese imports subject to tariffs, which could include high-tech products like semiconductors as well as cheap electronics and other goods that many Americans buy.
Josh Kallmer, the senior vice president for global policy at the Information Technology Industry Council, an advocate for companies like Google, Facebook, Apple, Microsoft and IBM, said his group had been largely supportive of the administration’s targeting of China’s unfair trade practices. But the group had made it clear to the White House that it would not be pleased with any measure that had tariffs “as the primary or even a significant remedy.”
“The reason is that it would be a tax on consumers,” Mr. Kallmer said, “precisely the people we are trying to support.”
Many of the trade measures that Mr. Trump has proposed, including the steel and aluminum tariffs, have divided his advisers, the business community and the Republican Party. But the White House has boasted that its targeting of China’s trade practices has broad support from industries on the losing end of the Chinese approach.
That theory could make it more difficult for American companies to operate in a country that already puts up steep barriers.
American companies and business groups have frequently complained that China blocks off valuable markets from American competition, including technology, media and finance, and that it does so in violation of commitments it made when it joined the World Trade Organization in 2001. China has imposed regulations that require American companies to share their technology with Chinese partners, for example, mandating that foreign companies operate through joint ventures if…