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Consumers in China Weigh Options as Trade Frictions Simmer

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Simmering U.S.-China trade frictions have stirred up a furious debate among American farmers who are already facing increased tariffs from Beijing on a wide range of products from pork to fruit and nuts.

In the Chinese capital, Beijing, however, discussion of the topic is muted by comparison. Chinese state media are publishing lengthy articles about how China will stand its ground, with some even arguing it’s time for Beijing to teach America a lesson.

Imported nuts from the United States are displayed at a supermarket in Beijing, March 23, 2018.

Imported nuts from the United States are displayed at a supermarket in Beijing, March 23, 2018.

Consumers are watching the dispute closely. Some are concerned about the impact the trade tensions could have, but most that VOA spoke with were convinced they could weather the storm by buying products from other countries and sources.

At an open-air market in downtown Beijing, U.S. imported fruits and nuts are now still competitively priced. But when tariffs start to hit, they are likely to cost even more. One vender VOA spoke with said he is already weighing his options.

“I can just stop buying U.S. goods and stop selling products from America,” he said. “I can just buy goods from China. Chinese should eat products made in China.”

FILE - Meat stalls are seen at a market in Beijing, China, March 25, 2016.

FILE – Meat stalls are seen at a market in Beijing, China, March 25, 2016.

Tit for tat tariffs

The United States has said it will place tariffs on more than 1,300 Chinese goods if Beijing does not take steps to further open its markets, address American concerns and do more to protect intellectual property rights.

Chinese authorities have repeatedly voiced confidence they are prepared to fight to the end if Washington goes ahead with its tariffs, but neither side knows for certain just how broad an impact either country’s tariffs could have.

Both Beijing and Washington are working to minimize the impact on their own economies while working to appear tough and resolved, but tough actions can produce unintended consequences.

The Trump administration has already been scrambling to assure U.S. farmers they will be taken care of in the event that trade actions impact their livelihoods.

FILE - A farmer checks his combine as he gets ready to harvest his soybean crop at his farm in Turbeville, South Carolina, Oct. 5, 2016.

FILE – A farmer checks his combine as he gets ready to harvest his soybean crop at his farm in Turbeville, South Carolina, Oct. 5, 2016.

Even though China has yet to follow through on its pledge to place a 25 percent tax on soybean imports, the threat has begun to hit the price of soybeans and animal feed for pigs and poultry. And because of that, there are concerns the measure aimed at punishing American farmers in areas where political support for Trump was strong could also impact farmers and consumers in China as well.

Chinese officials issued a statement last week arguing that would not happen.

Price movement

Xiao Guoying, a researcher with the Institute of Subtropical Agriculture under the Chinese Academy of Sciences said that a minor price hike would be unavoidable if a trade war is launched.

But he also believes that businessmen in China and the United States are smart and will find ways around the tariffs.

“Suppliers still have to find markets to sell their soybeans, even if it means a price cut,” Xiao said. “If global demand and supply [of soybean] remain stable, there won’t be a major price fluctuation.”

In Beijing, most residents that VOA spoke with said they hoped the two sides will find a way to work the dispute out. If not, some warned that it is consumers that will end up footing the bill.

Miss Wang Chongyun works in the financial sector. She likes to vacation in San Diego and is a fan of Michael Kors’ products. She hopes the two countries sit down and talk soon.

If not, the dispute “will have an impact on the Chinese economy and that has an impact on the public’s interests,” she said. “With higher tariffs and prices, we’ll have to spend more.”

Ways to cope

Others, however, argue that it is foreign countries that need China more. And hence, any tariffs doomed to fail.

“If they [other countries] want to make money here, they have to work together with China because there are a lot of Chinese,” said one young woman.

Few that VOA spoke with knew what Washington is demanding or even the huge gap in access that exists between Chinese companies operating in the United States and the gridlock American and other foreign firms face trying to compete in China.

One man surnamed Hou, who works in the service sector, sees the trade dispute as an opportunity for China to stand up. He said China still has many weaknesses, but it also needs to improve itself and can’t always be bossed around by the United States.

“China’s domestic industries no longer lag behind and it can make whatever its people need,” Hou said. “There’s no need to rely on the U.S., take sports apparel, for example, there are plenty of domestic brands to choose from.”

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