China and U.S. Impose Tariffs on Trade Flows That Don’t Exist

By Dan Murtaugh (Bloomberg) — Natural gas, the cleanest and fastest-growing fossil fuel, has found itself in perhaps the oddest corner of the multi-billion dollar trade war between the world’s two biggest economies.

When the U.S. added duties to $34 billion of Chinese goods last month, China retaliated with its own list that included piped natural gas from the U.S. And when President Donald Trump added $200 billion worth of items to the possible tariff list Tuesday, he included liquefied natural gas from China.

Of course, neither trade flow exists. China is the world’s second-biggest importer of LNG and doesn’t have any liquefaction plants capable of exporting the fuel. And, unless someone built a 6,200-mile subsea pipeline that everyone was hitherto unaware of, the U.S. doesn’t export any piped gas to China.

Gas isn’t the only item that’s being sucked incongruously into the trade dispute. For example, the U.S. included live trout in the most recent list of tariffs, even though the fish apparently hasn’t been shipped alive from China to the U.S. since at least 1992, according to U.S. Census Bureau trade data.

Radio and tape players for cars are also on Trump’s list, yet they haven’t been imported from China since 2006, five years after the advent of the iPod, according to the bureau. And the U.S. is adding tariffs to electrical energy from China — though the lack of trans-Pacific power lines would probably be the more obvious barrier to trade.

© 2018 Bloomberg L.P