Zeroing in on China, Trump says he wants trade gap cut by US$1bn. White House says he means US$100bn

White House is forced to clarify presidential tweet on closing the huge trade gap

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 12:11pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 15 March, 2018, 12:11pm

The Trump administration is pressing China to cut its trade surplus with the United States by US$100 billion, a White House spokeswoman said on Wednesday, clarifying a tweet last week from President Donald Trump.

Last Wednesday, Trump tweeted that China had been asked to develop a plan to reduce its trade imbalance with the United States by US$1 billion, but the spokeswoman said Trump had meant to say US$100 billion.

The United States had a record US$375 billion trade deficit with China in 2017, which made up two thirds of a global US$566 billion US trade gap last year, according to US Census Bureau data.

Trump plans to punish US$60bn in Chinese tech imports with new tariffs

China reported its 2017 US trade surplus as US$276 billion, also about two thirds of its reported global surplus of US$422.5 billion.

The White House spokeswoman declined to provide details about how the administration would like China to accomplish the surplus-cutting goal – whether increased purchases of US products such as soybeans or aircraft would suffice, or whether it wants China to make major changes to its industrial policies, cut subsidies to state-owned enterprises or further reduce steel and aluminium capacity.

The request comes as the Trump administration is said to be preparing tariffs on imports of up to US$60 billion worth of Chinese information technology, telecoms and consumer products as part of a US investigation into China’s intellectual property practices.

It is also unclear if the requested US$100 billion reduction would address US complaints about China’s investment policies that effectively require US firms to transfer technology to Chinese joint venture partners in order to gain market access.

The issue is a core part of the probe being conducted under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974, a provision seldom invoked since the World Trade Organisation was founded in 1995. Trade experts have said tariffs imposed as a result of the China intellectual property probe may fall outside of WTO rules.

But Washington showed on Wednesday that it has not abandoned the global trade body, launching a WTO legal challenge to India’s export subsidies for domestic companies, including producers of steel, chemicals, pharmaceuticals, textiles and IT products.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said India had failed to remove the subsidies as required by WTO rules after the country reached certain economic benchmarks.

The United States is expected to invoke a national security exception to WTO rules in imposing import tariffs of 25 per cent on steel and 10 per cent on aluminium announced by Trump last week.

US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told lawmakers on Wednesday his department would soon publish procedures for product-specific exemptions from the steel tariffs for items that are not available from domestic producers or in short supply. The procedures are due by Sunday.

Anne Forristall Luke, president of the US Tyre Manufacturers Association, said the group would be “pressing very hard” for an exemption from tariffs for high-strength wire rod used to make cord for steel tire belts that is not produced by US mills.

The largest sources for the material are Japan and Brazil, she said, adding that US tire producers will lose business to foreign competitors if their steel costs rise.

“We are working this from the product side and the country side. We think we have a very good case,” she said.