‘We’re putting the trade war on hold’: Steve Mnuchin says US has paused China tariffs following Washington meeting

Mnuchin said that China plans to buy more American goods, a 35 to 40 per cent increase in agriculture sales this year alone

PUBLISHED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 12:23am
UPDATED : Monday, 21 May, 2018, 7:26pm

Punitive US tariffs targeting imports from China are “on hold” following agreements by high-level Chinese negotiators in Washington to buy more American goods, US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Sunday.

“We’re putting the trade war on hold,” Mnuchin told Fox News.

“Right now we have agreed to put the tariffs on hold while we try to execute the framework” agreement on reducing China’s trade surplus with the US.

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Mnuchin confirmed that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will lead another round of trade talks in Beijing.

“We are immediately going to follow this up with Secretary Ross going there with very hard commitments in agriculture, where we expect to see a very big increase, 35 to 40 per cent increases in agriculture this year alone,” Mnuchin said.

“In energy, doubling the energy purchases. I think you could see [US]$50-60 billion a year of energy purchases over the next three to five years.”

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Mnuchin’s comments addressed scepticism over how meaningful the most recent round of high-level trade talks in Washington were.

A joint statement released Saturday by the White House – touting “a consensus” reached on “taking effective measures to substantially reduce” the trade imbalance – did not mention US President Donald Trump’s earlier demand for a US$200 billion cut in the deficit by the end of 2020.

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Mnuchin brought that demand to Beijing during the first round of high-level talks two weeks ago, according to a draft framework of the US position.

When pressed for specifics on deficit reduction targets, Mnuchin said he is “not going to publicly disclose specific, industry-by-industry targets”.

China had a US$375 billion trade surplus with the US in 2017, according to US census data.

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The treasury secretary also addressed questions around whether Trump’s surprise tweet last week, in which the president pledged to help resolve US sanctions against Chinese telecommunications equipment maker ZTE, meant that Trump was using ZTE as a bargaining chip in trade talks.

“We didn’t agree to any quid pro quo [around ZTE] and Secretary Ross will make sure the enforcement issue is in, but in a way that is good for American companies,” Mnuchin said.

Decisions around ZTE sanctions are “completely independent of the trade negotiations”, he said.