As President Donald Trump prepares to sit down with China’s President Xi this weekend, Trump said Thursday that the administration is “very close” to reaching a deal to end the trade showdown between the two major economies even as he also sought to downplay the importance of making such a deal.
“I think we're very close to doing something with China, but I don't know that I want to do it, because what we have right now is billions and billions of dollars coming into the United States in the form of tariffs or taxes. So I really don't know,” Trump said as he departed the White House on his way to Argentina for the G-20 Summit, where he will also have a working dinner with Xi.
“But I will tell you that I think China wants to make a deal. I'm open to making a deal. But, frankly, I like the deal we have right now,” the president continued.
The president has also repeatedly said that should a deal not be reached, his administration stands ready to further escalate the U.S. tariffs imposed on China.
“I have another 250 billion dollars' worth of tariffs to put on if we don't make a deal,” Trump told reporters last week. “And, believe me, I'll be putting them on because China has been ripping off our country for many, many years. And they don't rip us off with me.”
The president’s economic adviser Larry Kudlow, in a briefing with reporters this week, similarly sought to make the case that the U.S. comes into the negotiations from a stronger bargaining position than China.
“We're in very good shape,” Kudlow said. “China, not so good. I'm not here to critique or second-guess the Chinese economy, but most observers believe China to be in a slump, whereas the United States is in a very strong, solid position going into this summit.”
But despite the administration’s public posturing, the US economy has been showing signs of strain as of late with a volatile stock market and an announcement from General Motors this week that the US automaker is poised to lay off thousands of workers.
The president has not assumed any personal responsibility for the negative economic news, instead pointing the finger at his Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell for raising interest rates.
“I’m not happy with the Fed,” Trump told the Washington Post earlier this week. “They’re making a mistake because I have a gut, and my gut tells me more sometimes than anybody else’s brain can ever tell me.”
Before departing for Argentina, the administration signaled its willingness to play hardball and continue to apply pressure to China. Two days after GM’s announcement, the U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer released a statement saying he would "examine all available tools to equalize the tariffs applied to automobiles" between the U.S. and China at the president's direction.