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Navarro rebukes Mnuchin over trade truce before China talks
[WASHINGTON] White House trade adviser Peter Navarro criticized Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin for declaring the US-China trade war was on hold, calling the remarks an "unfortunate sound bite" and acknowledging there's a dispute that needs to be resolved.
"What we're having with China is a trade dispute, plain and simple," Mr Navarro said in an interview broadcast Wednesday with National Public Radio. "We lost the trade war long ago" with deals such as Nafta and China's entry into the World Trade Organization, he said.
The remarks from Mr Navarro, a hard-liner on President Donald Trump's trade team, come just days before US Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross is scheduled to meet with his counterparts in Beijing to discuss ways to reduce the US trade deficit with China. The White House on Tuesday said the US is moving ahead with plans to impose tariffs on US$50 billion of Chinese imports and curb investment in sensitive technology.
The renewed tariff threats could stop the planned talks, the Wall Street Journal reported on Wednesday, citing sources in both countries. A team of US officials to prepare for the talks was in Beijing on Wednesday.
Asked about potential Chinese retaliation, especially on American farm goods, Mr Navarro said "we're ready for anything."
Earlier this month, Mr Mnuchin said in a televised interview that the prospect of a trade war with China was "on hold." His comments, following meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping's top economic adviser, fueled expectations that both sides would be able to settle their differences through negotiations.
But persistent rifts over trade policy in the White House have created confusion about the US's future relations with partners from China to the European Union. Mr Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow are free-trade supporters regarded as more conciliatory toward Beijing than USTrade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Mr Navarro, the administration's fiercest China hawk.
The US is confronting China as it picks battles on other trade fronts with some of its closest allies. Temporary reprieve from steel and aluminum tariffs for the EU, Canada and Mexico expire on June 1. The US allies have demanded a permanent and unconditional waiver from the levies, which are being imposed on the grounds of national security.
The US is also racing to agree on a revised North American Free Trade Agreement to give the current Republican-controlled Congress a chance to approve the deal this year. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said in an interview on Tuesday that a "win-win-win" agreement is still possible but that he'd rather reach no deal than accept a bad one.
The White House's unexpected announcement that it would proceed with Chinese tariffs revived worries about a trade war that would upend supply changes and hurt business.
"Conflicting messages coming from the administration is causing whiplash for American companies that are focused on growing the economy and creating jobs here at home," the Virginia-based Retail Industry Leaders Association, whose members include Walmart Inc, Target Corp and Best Buy Co, said on Tuesday.
The next round of negotiations could provide more clarity. Mr Ross is due to hold talks in Beijing from June 2-4 to work out the details for China to buy more American agriculture and energy exports and narrow the US's US$375 billion trade gap with China.
The advance team for the visit includes senior officials from the departments of agriculture, energy, commerce and treasury. The six-person group includes the US Trade Representative's Chief Agricultural Negotiator Gregg Doud; Ted McKinney, the under secretary for trade at the Department of Agriculture; and Treasury's deputy assistant secretaries Robert Kaproth and Mitch Silk, according to an emailed statement.
Speaking at an Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development conference in Paris on Wednesday, Mr Ross defended Trump's unilateral tariff measures as necessary to fix a broken global trade system.
"Every country's primary obligation is to protect its own citizens and their livelihood," Mr Ross said. "Maybe that's a populist saying, but it's one we feel very strongly about."