China-US relations

Trump won't trade US jobs for China's help on North Korea, says official

US Commerce Secretary says Beijing and Washington holding constructive talks on trade, while also trying to tackle Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons programme

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 10:42am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 02 May, 2017, 10:52pm

President Donald Trump does not intend to trade away American jobs for China’s help on North Korea, US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said on Monday, adding that there were “constructive” talks with Beijing underway on trade issues.

Ross rowed back during an interview with CNBC from Trump’s comments on Saturday that China’s help on North Korea “trumps trade”.

Asked if the need for China’s help to contain threats from North Korea had made it more difficult to be tough with Beijing on trade issues, Ross said he did not think so.

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“We’ve been having some very constructive discussions on trade with the Chinese in parallel” to discussions on North Korea, Ross said.

“I think what the president was trying to say is that we’re trying to have an overall constructive relationship with China on a variety of topics, the most pressing of which, because it directly involves human lives, is the North Korea situation. I don’t think he meant to indicate at all that he intends to trade away American jobs just for help on North Korea,” Ross said.

Ross also reaffirmed that the administration intended to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement, not withdraw from it.

He called Nafta “an ancient treaty” that does nothing to address the digital economy, very little to address services and has many obsolete provisions, such as those on rules of origin, allowing in too many components and products from outside the US, Canada and Mexico.

He said, however, Mexico’s national elections next year could become an obstacle if negotiations were not completed well before then.

“The closer we get to the election, the more difficult it will be to get anything through,” Ross said.

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Asked about White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro’s role in trade policy, Ross said he was “not a trade negotiator,” but was working with the US Trade Representative and the Commerce Department as “a kind of triumvirate” on trade.

Ross added that Navarro was spending a lot of time on “Buy American, Hire American” initiatives as part of his focus on US trade deficits.

Trump created the role for Navarro after he served as the principal economic advisor to his election campaign.