The Slatest

Trump Admits His Trade War Isn’t Ending Anytime Soon

Trump is standing in front of a Christmas tree, waving goodbye, with a neutral or negative facial expression
President Trump leaves 10 Downing Street in London on Wednesday.
Alastair Grant/Getty Images

On Tuesday, speaking before reporters at a London press conference, President Donald Trump signaled not to expect the trade war with China to end anytime soon. “We’re doing very well with China right now and we could be doing even better,” he boasted, adding that when it comes to reaching a deal with China and unwinding tariffs, “I have no deadline. … In some ways I think it’s better to wait for after the election if you want to know the truth.”

Trump’s timeline announcement comes as a new round of tariffs is scheduled to go into effect on Dec. 15. Those tariffs target $250 billion in Chinese goods, including video game consoles, computer monitors, and cellphones, as well as  some clothing, shoes, and toys. To date, $350 billion in Chinese goods have been targeted by tariffs. Reuters has said once the new tariffs kick in, the regime will cover “nearly all goods traded by the U.S. and China.”

The tariffs are putting considerable pressure on the U.S. economy. J.P. Morgan Chase estimated in August that the tariffs would cost American households $1,000 each this year, a figure that doesn’t take it to account some of the recent increases. Farm bankruptcies are up 24 percent year over year, as U.S. farmers struggle under China’s retaliatory tariffs on soybeans, pork, and other products, despite Trump’s attempts to soften the blow with a $15 billion aid package.

As recently as a month ago, a provisional trade deal with China appeared imminent, as the two nations planned a signing ceremony. But by mid-November, talks stalled or unraveled. Relations soured further as Congress passed legislation on Nov. 21 in support of Hong Kong protesters, which Trump begrudgingly signed after signaling hesitation when he called Chinese President Xi Jinping an “incredible guy” and “a friend of mine.” China hit back against the Hong Kong bill by revoking port privileges in Hong Kong for U.S. warships. Over the past two days, markets have tumbled, reportedly in response to the Trump administration’s signals to expect the trade war to drag on. Since Monday morning, when Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross also warned a trade deal isn’t imminent, the Dow has fallen by more than 600 points, about 2 percent.

But if Trump has realized trade wars aren’t picnic battles with easy exits, it hasn’t dampened his enthusiasm to start new ones. Trump showed his willingness on Monday to turn the bilateral U.S-China conflict into a world war, hitting Brazil and Argentina with aluminum and steel tariffs, ostensibly to apply further leverage to China, which turned to those countries for soybean and meat imports after imposing the U.S. tariffs. And he reacted to France’s 3 percent tax on tech-company revenue earned within the country with threats of new tariffs of up to 100 percent on French imports such as wine, porcelain, and handbags. Trump’s trade war appears to be a giant tangle of cognitive dissonance, without any evidence things are going according to plan—any plan.