Donald Trump, the US president, has warned Xi Jinping, his Chinese counterpart, that a new round of tariffs would be levied on the country’s goods if the two leaders failed to meet at the G20 summit in Japan, as trade tensions continued to simmer between Washington and Beijing.
In an interview with CNBC on Monday, Mr Trump said he believed there would be a bilateral meeting with Mr Xi in Osaka on the sidelines of the world leaders’ gathering later this month. The meeting has been widely seen as a chance for a new truce between the US and China.
“I think the differences can be worked out very easily. I would be surprised if he didn’t go. I think he is going, I haven’t heard that he’s not,” Mr Trump said. But the US president added that levies on $300bn of additional Chinese imports would be imposed immediately if Mr Xi failed to show up, on top of a 25 per cent tariff in place now on $250bn of goods.
“We are expected to meet. If we do, that’s fine, and if we don’t, that’s fine. Look, from our standpoint, the best deal we can have is 25 per cent on $600bn, OK?” the president said.
Mr Trump’s message to Mr Xi came as the escalating US-China stand-off took centre stage in US trade policy again after an eight-day spat with Mexico over migration — which included a threat to impose tariffs on goods from south of the US border — ended on Friday night with an agreement to defuse the North American conflict.
Since talks to end the US-China trade dispute broke up in acrimony last month, there has been little communication between Washington and Beijing on how to get negotiations back on track. While Mr Trump has touted the likelihood of a meeting with Mr Xi in Japan, Chinese officials have not confirmed their president’s acceptance of such a bilateral encounter, which would be the first since a steak dinner after the last G20 summit in Argentina in December.
In a combative tone, Mr Trump on Monday attacked domestic constituencies that he viewed as standing in the way of his multi-front trade offensive, with swipes at the US Chamber of Commerce, the business group that opposes tariffs, and the US Federal Reserve.
“[China] devalue their currency, they have for years: it’s put them at a tremendous competitive advantage. And we don’t have that advantage because we have a Fed that doesn’t lower interest rates,” Mr Trump said. “We should be entitled to have a fair playing field but, even without a fair playing field — because our Fed is very, very disruptive to us — even without a fair playing field we are winning.”
Mr Trump did renew an offer he has made repeatedly to Beijing in recent months to find a settlement with China on the fate of Huawei, the telecommunications network company that has been placed on a US export blacklist after it was charged with violating US sanctions and stealing trade secrets. Mr Trump said Huawei was a “threat” to the US, but he added that “it could be very well that we do something with respect to Huawei as part of our trade negotiations”.
Even as he turned to China, Mr Trump directed some of his trade wrath across the Atlantic at French wines, saying it was “unfair” that it received better access to US markets than the “California guys” got in Europe.
“We’ll do something about it,” he said. The US has threatened to impose tariffs on European wines in response to subsidies benefiting Airbus, the European aircraft maker, after the World Trade Organization ruled in Washington’s favour in the long-running dispute.
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