The Trump administration on Tuesday delayed imposing a 10% import tariff on laptops, cell phones, video game consoles and a wide range of other products made in China, in an abrupt pull-back from a hardline stance on Chinese trade.
The US Trade Representative's Office action was published just minutes after China's Ministry of Commerce said Vice Premier Liu He conducted a phone call with US trade officials.
The delay in the tariffs that had been scheduled to start next month provides some relief to retailers. Although most stores would have stocked their holiday merchandise before the earlier September deadline, some might have faced the tariffs for fill-in orders late in the holiday shopping season.
The decision came less than two weeks after President Donald Trump said on Aug. 1 he would impose a 10% tariff on $300 billion of Chinese goods, blaming China for not following through on promises to buy more American agricultural products.
The administration is still moving forward with 10% tariffs on much of the $300 billion list first disclosed in May, publishing a 122-page list of products that will face tariffs beginning Sept. 1, including smartwatches.
Since Trump's Aug. 1 tweets threatening the new tariffs, the US benchmark S&P stock index has dropped more than 4% percent.
On Tuesday, technology investors welcomed news of the exemptions, pushing an index of chip stocks up 3.1%, while shares of Apple surged more than 5% and the Dow Jones Industrial Average rose more than 500 points.
The exemptions, combined with renewed talks with China, suggest Trump may be willing to compromise.
In a sign the administration may be expecting something in return, Trump tweeted on Tuesday: "As usual, China said they were going to be buying "big” from our great American Farmers. So far they have not done what they said. Maybe this will be different!" Trump tweeted.
Other products that will have tariffs delayed until Dec. 15 include "computers, video game consoles, certain toys, computer monitors, and certain items of footwear and clothing," the USTR said in a statement.
The Retail Industry Leaders Association said "removing some products from the list and delaying additional 10% tariffs on other products, such as toys, consumer electronics, apparel and footwear, until Dec. 15 is welcomed news as it will mitigate some pain for consumers through the holiday season."
The 21-page-list of products that won't get hit with tariffs until December includes baby monitors and strollers, microwaves, instant print cameras, doorbells, high chairs, musical instruments, ketchup dispensers, baby diapers, fireworks, sleeping bags, nativity scenes, fishing reels, paint rollers and food products.
USTR is still moving forward with tariffs on Sept. 1 on many products such as live animals, dairy products, skis, golf balls, contact lenses, motorcycle engines, lithium ion batteries, snowblowers and various types of steel.
A separate group of products will also be exempt altogether, "based on health, safety, national security and other factors," it added.
The announcement comes amid growing concerns about a global slowdown. Goldman Sachs said on Sunday fears of the US-China trade war leading to a recession are increasing and that Goldman no longer expects a trade deal between the world’s two largest economies before the 2020 US presidential election.
Cell phones, laptop and tablet computers, toys and video game controllers were among the top four product categories in the proposed $300 billion list of products targeted by the latest 10% tariff. These products accounted for a combined $98 billion of Chinese imports in 2018, according to a Reuters analysis of US Census bureau data.
Trump has also personally criticized Chinese President Xi Jinping for failing to do more to stem sales of the synthetic opioid fentanyl amid an opioid overdosing crisis in the United States.
The USTR office plans to conduct an exclusion process for products subject to the additional tariff.