The CEO of Standard Chartered said tariffs could be an "effective" opening gambit for trade negotiations, but ultimately would provide a negative if there were escalating tensions between China and the U.S.
"I think if there is really a sense that you can win a trade war, that will be more concerning," Bill Winters told CNBC when asked about the new tariffs from the U.S. administration. "Because I think the only thing that's clear is, as you ratchet up tariffs and other levels of protectionism, globally you lose."
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump announced steel and aluminum tariffs that upset traditional allies, such as Japan and the European Union. Both are trying to be excluded from the new metal tariffs but it is still unclear whether this will happen.
Meanwhile, Investors are monitoring an investigation into intellectual property rights in the U.S. fearing that its outcome will spark a trade war with China. The result of such a probe could find that China caused losses in the billions of dollars for the U.S. economy due to counterfeit goods and pirated software. As a result, Trump could reportedly announce new tariffs on Chinese imports as high as $60 billion.
"The tariff talk, the protectionism more broadly, of course, is a concern," Winter told CNBC. "We can hope that the policymakers on both sides (China and the U.S.) are able to come to terms because both have said that a trade war is a bad thing, no one wins a trade war … I am pretty sure you can't win a trade war," Winters told CNBC at a conference in Asia.
According to research from Citigroup on Monday, the recent trade actions by the U.S. administration increase the risks of a full-scale trade war. Analysts at the bank expect a "tightening in trade and investment rules with only modest macroeconomic consequences" but they also said that if tensions escalate into a trade war: "It would have stagflationary effects on the global outlook."
A great deal of Standard Chartered business takes place in Asia, but Winters said the bank is "not very exposed to a ramping up of the protectionism between those two parties."
If both countries entered into a trade war, Chinese firms would find other markets where they can sell their products they are currently selling to the United States, as well as finding other areas where they can buy the products they are now buying from the U.S., Winters said. He argued that it "actually plays to our strengths."