US-China trade war
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US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks during an interview in New York on Friday. Photo: Bloomberg

Nancy Pelosi wants US to be tougher on China than Donald Trump by aligning with EU to pressure Beijing on trade

  • House speaker says president weakened US position in trade war by alienating Europe with duties
  • US needs to go beyond using tariffs as a primary weapon and instead engage allies like EU, Pelosi argues
US House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says the Democrats would be tougher on China than President Donald Trump by aligning with the European Union to bring additional pressure on the world’s second-largest economy.
Pelosi said in a round table with Bloomberg reporters and editors on Friday that Trump was correct to identify China’s aggressive trade policy as a threat to the US. But she faulted his approach as ineffective and said he has further hobbled the US position by engaging in a trade conflict with the EU at the same time.

“We have leverage,” Pelosi said. “So, what did the president do? Alienate the EU by putting tariffs on them. So they’re now looking out for themselves vis-à-vis us.”

She said the US needs to be more “strategic”, moving trade policy beyond using tariffs as a primary weapon and instead engage allies like the EU that share US interests as well as its complaints about China.

“It has to be more comprehensive so that China knows they can’t do this any more,” Pelosi said.

Her remarks come as Trump is trying to conclude a “phase one” deal to ease the current trade war with China. However Chinese officials are casting doubts about reaching a comprehensive long-term trade deal with the US.

The Trump administration has taken a mainly unilateral approach to the trade war with China, imposing tariffs on some US$360 billion in imported Chinese goods to try to force economic reforms.

So far, though, it has had limited success, if any. While the tariffs have forced many companies to contemplate shifting supply chains out of China the Trump administration has yet to deliver the sort of comprehensive change in Chinese behaviour it has sought.

Business groups urge US Congress to reclaim its authority over tariffs

Trump last month abandoned his push for a one-time and all-encompassing deal with Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart. He has instead opted to try to do it in phases, the first of which he wants to sign in the coming weeks.

Pelosi joins other Democrats, including those running for president in 2020 like former vice-president Joe Biden, who argue that Trump has weakened his hand with China by concurrently waging trade battles and imposing tariffs against long-standing allies like the EU.

Critics say Trump’s use of tariffs – and the retaliation it has provoked from China and the EU among others – has also hurt US farmers and workers.

European cheeses are displayed for sale at the Monsieur Marcel Bistro in Los Angeles. US President Donald Trump tariffs on European goods include a 25 per cent charge on gourmet imports like French wine, Italian cheese and Spanish olives. Photo: Bloomberg
In addition to a trade war with China, Trump last year imposed sweeping tariffs on European steel and aluminium and has threatened to hit European car imports with a duty of up to 25 per cent, arguing that they are a national security risk. He is due this month to make a decision on the latter.

The US also imposed tariffs on US$7.5 billion of EU goods, ranging from planes to spirits, after the Trump administration won a long-standing World Trade Organisation case involving aircraft subsidies.

The EU has pledged to hit back with its own tariffs, risking a further escalation of tensions.