Donald Trump warns China not to raise tariffs on farm products ‘because they think that hits me’
US president says he will ‘probably’ reach a trade deal with China but that agricultural tariffs intended to hurt him politically are ‘not nice’
US President Donald Trump said on Monday that he will “probably” come to an agreement with Beijing about trade action he has threatened to take against Chinese imports.
Trump also warned China that threats to raise tariffs on American agricultural products, in an attempt to hurt a constituency that provided some of his strongest political support, would backfire.
The US leader said he was faced with a choice: either cut a deal with China to back away from his plan for punitive tariffs on US$150 billion worth of imports or come up with measures that will offset losses tied to retaliatory import taxes Beijing has put on US agricultural products.
Taking questions from reporters at the start of a cabinet meeting on Monday, Trump spoke of reaching a deal with China – “Probably, we will.”
“If we don’t, they'll have to pay pretty high taxes to do business with our country. That's a possibility,” Trump said.
“But if we do a deal with China,” he continued, “if during the course of a negotiation they want to hit the farmers because they think that hits me, I wouldn’t say that's nice.
“But I tell you, our farmers are great patriots. These are great patriots. They understand that they're doing this for the country and we'll make it up to them.”
Trump has recently made conciliatory comments about China’s President Xi Jinping, suggesting the two are “good friends”, but Washington and Beijing have yet to announce any new talks addressing outstanding trade and investment issues.
Two rounds of high-level talks between Chinese and US officials aimed at defusing bilateral trade tensions earlier this year failed to produce any result.
Liu He, director of China’s Office of the Central Leading Group for Financial and Economic Affairs, left Washington last month after meeting with US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn, who has since resigned.
A week later, Trump announced his plan to target US$50 billion worth of Chinese imports to address a trade imbalance that grew to a record US$376 billion in 2017 and to fight against investment rules that require foreign companies operating in China to transfer intellectual property rights to joint venture partners.
Cohn’s successor, Larry Kudlow, said last week that the two nations were holding “back-channel discussions” to resolve the escalating trade dispute. Trump did not provide any further information about such meetings in his cabinet meeting on Monday.
“We’ll take a little while to get there, but it could be very quick, actually,” Trump said of a possible agreement with China. “But I say, it’s not nice when they hit the farmers specifically because they think that hits me.”