US trade groups urge Trump to stop planned China tariffs
US President Donald Trump, warmly welcomed Chinese President Xi Jinping to what the US leader likes to call the "Winter White House," the Mar-a-Lago estate in Florida. (AFP / JIM WATSON)

Leading US trade associations have written to President Donald Trump urging him to halt plans to slap tariffs on Chinese imports.

The letter, first reported Sunday by the Wall Street Journal, is signed by 45 US trade groups representing everything from the high-tech industry to apparel vendors, agribusiness and auto parts importers.

The trade groups represent companies such as Apple, Alphabet - the parent company of Google - Walmart and Nike.

"The imposition of sweeping tariffs would trigger a chain reaction of negative consequences for the U.S. economy, provoking retaliation; stifling U.S. agriculture, goods, and services exports; and raising costs for businesses and consumers," reads the letter, dated Sunday.

The Trump administration "should not respond to unfair Chinese practices and policies by imposing tariffs or other measures that will harm U.S. companies, workers, farmers, ranchers, consumers, and investors."

US officials should "work with like-minded partners to address common concerns with China's trade and investment policies," the letter reads.

Unilateral US tariffs "would only serve to split the United States from its allies, hinder joint action to effectively address shared challenges, and ensure that foreign companies take the place of markets that American companies, farmers and ranchers must vacate when China retaliates."

It also asked that the administration let "industry experts ... comment on these issues, including the economic impact of any potential actions."

The United States has long accused Beijing of forcing US companies to turn over proprietary commercial information and intellectual property as a condition of operating in China.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer recently proposed a package of $30 billion in tariffs on China but Trump wants it to go higher, according to US media.

The US trade deficit with China ran to a record $375 billion last year -- but US exports to the country were also at a record.

Peter Navarro, a senior White House advisor on trade, said Thursday that the president would soon consider fresh punitive measures against Beijing over its "theft" of US intellectual property.

Chinese officials have warned they are likely to retaliate in kind.

With tariffs recently announced on major imports including steel and aluminum, trade war fears have left markets jittery and US trading partners torn between conciliation and pushback in response.