‘Not nice’ China has targeted US farmers, Trump tells rally as he considers doubling tariffs on Chinese goods

‘The days of plundering American jobs and American wealth, those days are over’

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 10:37am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 01 August, 2018, 2:20pm

US President Donald Trump on Tuesday issued a defiant defence of his trade policies, praising American farmers for weathering Chinese tariffs and telling a crowd at a rally for Republican candidates that “the days of plundering American jobs and American wealth, those days are over”.

Trump’s remarks at the Florida State Fairgrounds Expo Hall came one week after his administration announced that it is preparing a US$12 billion emergency aid package for farmers who have been caught in his escalating trade war with China and other countries.

They also come as his administration considers more than doubling its planned tariffs on US$200 billion in Chinese imports, ratcheting up pressure on Beijing to return to the negotiating table.

“China and others have targeted our farmers,” he said.

“Not good. Not nice. And you know what our farmers are saying? ‘It’s OK. We can take it’.”

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Trump argued that previous administrations had allowed the United States to “truly get ripped off, but we’re not going to let that happen.”

“I’m not like other politicians,” he said.

“You’ve seen what happens. I’ve kept my promises.”

Trump is considering a plan to impose a 25 per cent tariff on US$200 billion in Chinese imports, after initially setting them at 10 per cent, a person briefed on the matter said.

The deliberations could be a sign that Trump is looking to intensify pressure in the trade stand-off with Beijing even if it could significantly drive up costs on a wide range of products for American consumers.

A final decision has not been made, and a number of Trump’s threats toward China have been designed more to bring Chinese President Xi Jinping to the negotiating table than to fundamentally change US economic policy, said the person, who insisted on anonymity to discuss White House deliberations.

If Trump follows through with the plan, it could significantly raise prices on televisions, clothing, bedsheets, air conditioners and other consumer products.

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In May, Trump announced tariffs on US$50 billion of Chinese goods. Since then, China has retaliated with US$45 billion in tariffs of its own, driving down soybean prices and sparking fear among Republicans that their party could suffer at the ballot box in November’s midterm elections.

In announcing the agricultural bailout last week, Trump urged farmers to “be a little patient” and support his trade strategy.

His trip on Tuesday – his second to the Tampa area since he became president – included a workforce development event at Tampa Bay Technical High School, followed by the rally at the fairgrounds, to support the gubernatorial bid of Ron DeSantis.

In a sign the trade stand-off is reverberating through Chinese politics, the Politburo signalled Tuesday that policymakers will focus more on supporting economic growth amid risks from a campaign to reduce debt and the dispute with Trump.

The communique, which followed a meeting of the country’s most senior leaders led by Xi, said the campaign to reduce leverage will continue at a measured pace while improving economic policies to make them more forward-looking, flexible and effective in the second half.

Trump directed trade representative Robert Lighthizer to raise the tariff rate to 25 per cent, Bloomberg reported.

While American and Chinese officials have hinted at the possibility of restarting talks in recent weeks, it’s been almost two months since they last held high-level negotiations.

Additional reporting by Reuters and Bloomberg