Trade tensions between the United States and China escalated today after months of threats over billions of dollars of tariffs.  The United States has levied tariffs on $34 billion worth of Chinese goods, officially launching a trade war between the world’s two largest economics.

The U.S. move is expected to prompt Beijing to retaliate against American products, plunging the two countries into an increasingly unpredictable trade war.  The Chinese side fired back, accusing the U.S. of violating WTO rules setting off “the largest trade war in economics history to date.”  No official talks or negotiations are currently scheduled between the United States and China.

President Trump ordered the tariffs in response to China’s intellectual property policies, including compulsory licensing requirements that coerce foreign companies into surrendering their trade secrets in return for access to the Chinese market.  The president also wants China to buy significantly more American products in a bid to reduce the $375 billion U.S. trade deficit.

The conflict over U.S.-China trade has been brewing for years but has intensified rapidly in 2018.  On April 3, The U.S. released a list of targets for proposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of Chinese imports, taking aim at high-tech and industrial goods.  On April 4, China fired back.  In the months since, the tit for tat has escalated, with the U.S. threatening successive rounds of tariffs on goods valued at hundreds of billions of dollars.  China has vowed to match U.S. moves.

U.S. customer officers stared imposing duties on Chinese goods at 12:01 a.m. today.  The Chinese Ministry of Commerce responded by issuing a statement calling the U.S. move “typical trade bullying.” “In order to defend the core interests of the country and the interests of the people, we are forced to retaliate,” the Chinese statement said.

Chinese officials have previously said they would respond with equivalent action against a range of U.S. goods, including pork, poultry, soybeans, and corn.  President Trump previously vowed to hit an additional $200 billion in Chinese goods if Beijing did so.

The moves mark a historic break with nearly a quarter-center of growing integration between the U.S. and Chinese economies. The U.S. tariffs, intended to spare consumers by aiming at industrial products, are designed to force China to drop numerous trade practices that President Trump says discriminate against U.S. companies.

Administration officials say that, with the economy powering along and unemployment at an 18-year low, this is the time for the United States to confront China over its long-standing complaints. The imposition of the new import taxes makes real a conflict that has rattled markets, scrambled corporate  supply networks, and chilled business investment.

China’s counter-tariffs appear to be aimed at the U.S. heartland.  Farmers fear that they will lose access to China’s lucrative market and be left with the bill for excess produce and livestock.

“I don’t think this is going to get resolved easily and I think these tariffs are going to hurt the U.S. economy,” said Rufus Yerxa president of the National Foreign Trade Council, which represents multinationals such as Coca-Cola, Ford, and Microsoft.