The Trump administration formally launched an investigation into trade practices that China allegedly uses to steal the intellectual property of U.S. companies.

The administration said today that it was launching a “Section 301” investigation. The probe could result in the U.S. imposing trade tariffs on China within months, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The administration signaled that it was going to begin a probe into the impact of China’s trade rules on U.S. intellectual property on Monday when President Donald Trump signed an order authorizing U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to consider beginning a Section 302 investigation.

“I notified the President today that I am beginning an investigation under Section 201 of the Trade Act of 1974,” Lighthizer said in a statement.

The speed of the move caught many off-guard. The move seemed to signal that the administration agrees with the view of Steve Bannon, who recently told a left-wing magazine that the “economic war with China is everything.”

Ordinarily, a Section 301 investigation would not result in any action for several months. But the timeline might be accelerated on this investigation, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Trump administration has already collected much of the information it needs to conclude that trade sanctions are appropriate to respond to China’s attempts to steal the intellectual property of U.S. companies.

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