The Slatest

U.S. Is Putting Its Trade War With China “On Hold” for Now, Says Treasury Secretary

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (red tie) arrives ahead of the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018.
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin (red tie) arrives ahead of the inauguration of the US embassy in Jerusalem on May 14, 2018.
MENAHEM KAHANA/Getty Images

The world’s two biggest economies are standing down. For now. The United States is officially dropping its headline-grabbing threats of imposing huge tariffs on Chinese products as it focuses on the ongoing negotiations regarding how to best close the trade deficit with China. “We’re putting the trade war on hold,” Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said on Fox News Sunday.

The words came as “a relief to investors, who had feared the world’s two biggest economies were on the brink of an all-out trade conflict,” notes Bloomberg. “The International Monetary Fund has warned that a global trade war would undermine the broadest global upswing in years.”

Even though Larry Kudlow, Trump’s top economic adviser, said tariffs could still become a reality, it seems clear relations have cooled down. The announcement came after two days of talks between the two countries in Washington that has reportedly led to commitments from Beijing to buy more American products and make it easier for U.S. firms to operate in China.

“The president has been very clear since the first meeting with President Xi in Mar-a-Lago, that it is—we are going to reduce the trade deficit. We have an agreement with China that they will substantially agree to it,” Mnuchin said. The two sides have offered few details about they had actually agreed to, and Mnuchin also didn’t reveal anything beyond saying the countries had agreed to a “framework.”

In an earlier round of talks, Washington had demanded China reduce its trade surplus by $200 billion, but Mnuchin refused to get into dollar figures. “We have very specific targets; I’m not going to disclose what they are,” Mnuchin said. “They go industry by industry.” But he did make it clear two industries that could see big increases in purchases from China would be the agriculture and energy sectors. “We expect to see a very big increase, 35 to 45 percent increases in agriculture this year alone,” Mnuchin said. “In energy, doubling the energy purchases. I think you could see $50 billion to $60 billion a year of energy purchases over the next three to five years.”