There's a good chance 'sanity will prevail' in US-China tariff battle, says UBS chairman

  • Despite imposing some tariffs on each others' imports, the U.S. and China have not yet entered a stage where it's fully a trade war, and there's a good chance "sanity" will ultimately prevail in the disagreement, the chairman of Swiss investment bank UBS told CNBC.
  • The trade dispute is affecting the relationship between the two countries beyond the trade of goods and is having an impact on services, Axel Weber said.
  • He also warned that the U.S., and others, should not push China beyond a level where it is willing and able to negotiate to solve the ongoing dispute.
Axel Weber, chairman of UBS Group
Michele Limina | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Axel Weber, chairman of UBS Group

The tariff battle between the United States and China has not yet entered a stage where it's a trade war, and it's likely "sanity" will ultimately prevail, according to the chairman of Swiss investment bank UBS.

Washington and Beijing are not likely to undo a lot of the positive benefits that each country experienced due to globalization, Axel Weber told CNBC on Saturday at the annual Singapore Summit. Still Weber said that the trade dispute is affecting relationship between the two countries beyond the trade of goods and is having an impact on services.

"As the U.S. is increasingly questioning the openness of trade, the Chinese are increasingly sort of asking questions about services and U.S. firms, in particular financial firms, doing business in China," he said. "So, there's a whole lot of co-mingling of interest at the moment."

"That is something that we raised multiple times in discussion with the U.S. authorities," Weber told CNBC. "That you have to be careful because if you take a holistic picture on goods and service trade, the imbalance is not as pronounced as it appears to be when you just look at goods. And, increasingly, countries look at that holistically."

The world's two largest economies have already imposed tariffs on $50 billion worth of each other's goods. That could escalate: The U.S. is considering additional tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods and President Donald Trump said he was ready to hit China with another $267 billion in tariffs. Beijing has warned that it would retaliate.

"It's not at a stage where it's a trade war. I think there is a good chance that sanity will prevail ultimately," Weber said, but he acknowledged that there is still an increasing risk.

One potential area of concern for market watchers is that Beijing could retaliate against the tariff threats from the Trump administration by allowing its currency to continually depreciate against the dollar. The yuan has been a sore point for a number of U.S. administrations, which have blasted Beijing for allowing the currency to weaken to help exports.

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Weber disagreed that the drop in the yuan is a big risk in the ongoing trade dispute.

"If you look at investments into China from foreign investors, those foreign investors would be lot more cautious if they fear that the Chinese currency would depreciate in a strategic, or in a tactical, manner," he said, adding that based on his conversations with various officials in Beijing, it didn't seem like artificially lowering the yuan was part of the policy.

A stable currency is in Beijing's interest and the recent yuan decline is similar to the way other emerging market currencies fell in recent months against the greenback, Weber explained.

Many strategists are skeptical that the ongoing trade tensions will not abate until after the U.S. midterm elections in November, even after a report said that American officials were seeking a round of high-level talks with their Beijing counterparts before the next round of tariffs are imposed. Others worry that those trade tensions would worsen following the election.

For Weber's part, he said China has demonstrated some momentum of opening up to the globe, so the U.S. and others should not push Beijing beyond a level where it is willing and able to negotiate to solve the ongoing dispute.

— CNBC's Patti Domm contributed to this report.