The prospect of an escalating trade war between the US and China has rattled financial markets and alarmed many businesses.
By driving up prices and killing sales, the tariffs would wipe out 24,000 jobs at companies that make chemicals and the companies that use them.
The US has long accused China of predatory business practices that rob American jobs and swell Washington's trade deficit with Beijing.
Donald Trump campaigned for the presidency on a vow to strike a much tougher trade stance than his recent predecessors, who, he argued, had agreed to deals that gave an unfair advantage to America's competitors. The president has pointed to the US trade deficit as a sign of economic weakness caused by disastrous agreements and abusive behavior by China and other countries.
He has proposed tariffs on Chinese imports to punish China for forcing American companies to hand over technology in exchange for access to China's vast market. China fired back by targeting American products, including soybeans and small aircraft, for potential retaliatory tariffs.
However the president has probably realized a trade war would hurt some of his staunchest supporters — farmers in the American heartland who rely on exports. It might also hurt his Republican Party in the November congressional elections. He's worried about the mid term and the impact of his trade policy on farmers.