Donald Trump

‘If we meet, we meet?’: Donald Trump casts doubt on possible breakthrough in trade talks with China, says ‘we are under no pressure to make a deal’

Trump’s Twitter post came after White House officials confirmed that Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had offered a formal invitation to Chinese leaders to restart trade talks

PUBLISHED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 12:05am
UPDATED : Friday, 14 September, 2018, 2:40am

Hopes that the United States and China could soon break their trade impasse took a fresh hit on Thursday after US President Donald Trump said his administration was under no pressure to make a deal.

Appearing to respond to a Wall Street Journal article from Wednesday that suggested newly proposed high-level talks were in part the result of rising pressure on him to bring about a resolution to the trade war, Trump tweeted that the newspaper “has it wrong.”

“We are under no pressure to make a deal with China, they are under pressure to make a deal with us,” he said. “Our markets are surging, theirs are collapsing. We will soon be taking in Billions in Tariffs & making products at home.”

He added: “If we meet, we meet?”

News of proposed high-level talks this month between US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Chinese Vice-Premier Liu He, and confirmation from the Chinese government, came as a surprise after Trump’s comments at the end of August that it was “not the right time to talk” with China.

Optimism had been shared by officials on both sides before Trump’s message.

Chinese exporters say government steps too little to offset trade war

Speaking at a regular press conference on Thursday, ministry of commerce spokesman Gao Feng said that Beijing welcomed the invitation from the US, and emphasised Beijing’s often repeated stance that an “escalating trade war is not beneficial to either of the two nations”.

That positive reaction was echoed in Washington, with Trump’s senior economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, telling the Fox Business Network: “I always believe, in most cases, talking is better than not talking, so I regard this as a plus.”

But Trump, who has a record of sending mixed foreign policy messages, appeared to pour cold water over optimism that the talks would lead to substantive progress, or even happen at all.

His remarks came barely a week after US business figures and industry association leaders pleaded with his administration not to go ahead with tariffs up to 25 per cent on US$200 billion of Chinese imports, by far the most dramatic escalation of the tit-for-tat stand-off since duties began in July.

How the US midterm elections could affect trade talks with China

The Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR) concluded a public comment period on those tariffs on September 6 after receiving thousands of individual testimonies from concerned observers, citing the havoc they would wreak on US companies’ supply chains and the ensuing financial burdens on small- and medium-sized businesses and their consumers.

Not a day after the public comment period ended, Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One that his administration intended to go ahead with the tariffs, and repeated threats to impose duties on the entirety of Chinese goods flowing into the US.

Watch: are Chinese consumers less willing to buy American goods?

Trump’s assurances that tariffs would herald a homecoming for US manufacturing, such as his comment on Thursday that the country would be “making products at home,” have recently been challenged by US corporations and derided by trade experts.

On Sunday, Trump claimed victory for the news that Ford Motor Company would not be selling an upcoming Chinese-built car model in the US, saying it was a sign that the automotive giant could now build the car in America.

Half of US firms in China foresee acute pain as trade war escalates

Ford responded that it would not be cost effective to build the car in the US, and that the company was moving ahead with construction in China and Germany.

Former US trade negotiators piled on scrutiny of Trump’s grasp of global trade, with former assistant USTR Claire Reade telling the South China Morning Post there was a “logical gap” in his assertion that Ford not importing the car into the US meant it could now be built there cost-effectively.

Watch: trade war fears for Chinese pork