Some major Chinese ports have delayed clearing goods from the United States, four sources said on Friday, potentially disrupting imports of key products such as pork and soybeans as the world's top two economies head towards a trade war.
News of the delays came as Washington imposed tariffs on $34 billion of Chinese imports from 0401 GMT on Friday. Beijing has said it will retaliate with punitive measures on U.S. products worth a similar amount.
The port of Shanghai put on hold clearing some U.S. imports through customs, said an official at a company in the coastal city, which handles customs clearance for importers. He had spoken to customs officials.
There did not appear to be any direct instructions to hold up cargoes, but some customs departments were waiting until they had received official guidance from the central government on imposing hefty import tariffs on hundreds of products, the sources said.
A wine merchant in Shanghai, one of the country's busiest trading hubs, said customs brokers were also slowing the clearance process because of confusion about how and when to implement duties.
"They're holding everything ... because there's uncertainty," he said.
"But overall, this weekend they should be able to identify what the taxes are and how they should be implemented, and they should be processed as normal."
A commodities trader in eastern Shandong province was told by customs at a major northern port that they have slowed the clearance of goods from the United States on Beijing's list.
Delays started at midnight local time on Thursday as agents waited for official word from the central government to enforce the new tariffs, he said.
The General Administration of Customs did not comment on the delays and said the agency will implement the tariffs as announced on Thursday.
The agency said on Thursday that tariffs on U.S. products will take effect immediately after U.S. tariffs on Chinese goods kick in.