Not long after, U.S. stock markets nosedived, with the Dow closing down 724 points on fears of a trade war possibly driving up costs on American businesses and ultimately consumers. Other factors included tech companies down on Facebook troubles and concerns over the Federal Reserve raising interest rates.
“This is the first of many,” the president said as he signed a presidential memorandum directing the U.S. Trade Representative to publish a proposed list of products in 15 days along with an intended tariff increase, after which the list will be opened up for public comment.
Trump said he’s spoken to China's President Xi about the actions and that he continues to have “tremendous respect” for him.
“We have a great relationship, " Trump said. "They're helping us a lot in North Korea. And that's China. But we have a trade deficit, depending on the way you calculate, of $504 billion. Now some people would say it's really $375 billion. Many different ways of looking at it. But any way you look at it, it is the largest deficit of any country in the history of our world. It's out of control.”
“The word is reciprocal," Trump said. "That's the word I want everyone to remember. We want reciprocal, mirror. Some people call it a mirror tariff," he said, adding that Thursday's action should have been taken years ago.
Primary sectors subject to the tariffs, according to the White House, will be aerospace, information communication technology, and machinery.
Earlier, an administration official briefing reporters said up to $50 billion in Chinese imports would be affected.
“Based upon the harm that is substantiated by the report, I think that about $50 billion is designed to offset the gains that the Chinese have received through their unfair trade practices,” the official said.
The announcement comes as the administration begins rolling out new tariffs on steel and aluminum imports, and as China has already threatened retaliatory actions against any punitive trade actions by the U.S. Economists have expressed growing worry that the president's heavy-handed moves could spark a trade war.
ABC News' Rebecca Jarvis contributed to this report.