The White House has insisted Donald Trump remains committed to the trade war with Beijing after the US president admitted that raising tariffs on Chinese goods had given him “second thoughts”.
The White House issued a statement on Sunday morning saying Mr Trump’s only regret was not raising levies higher, after the president appeared to cast doubt on his own policy during the G7 summit in the French coastal resort of Biarritz.
The apparent confusion added to jitters over the state of the global economy as the gathering of leading economies hosted by France’s president Emmanuel Macron held talks on Sunday on averting a global slowdown. The three-day meeting also brings together Germany, Japan, the UK, Italy, Canada and Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of EU leaders.
Mr Trump grabbed attention earlier on Sunday when he appeared to suggest a possible rethink over escalating a trade tariff war with China, just two days after increasing duties on almost all Chinese imports.
Asked if he was having second thoughts about imposing additional levies in Beijing, the US leader said he was. “I have second thoughts about everything,” he added, in remarks to the media on the margins of his first bilateral meeting with Boris Johnson, the UK prime minister.
But a White House spokesperson said the president’s answer had been “greatly misinterpreted”.
“President Trump responded in the affirmative — because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher,” the spokesperson added.
Mr Trump also defended his stewardship of the US economy, saying he was unworried about the falling stock market. “The market’s doing great,” he said. “The country is doing great. People were telling me yesterday, people are trying to copy the formula.”
He told reporters: “You people want a recession because you think maybe that’s the way to get Trump out.”
And he promised a partial trade deal between the US and Japan would be signed imminently. “We’ve agreed to every point, now we’re papering it, and we’ll be signing at a formal ceremony,” the president said. Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, sounded a slightly more cautious note, saying there was still “some work that needs to be done”, but that the “goal” was to sign the deal next month.
Nonetheless, fears about the health of the world economy preoccupied other leaders as they met on Sunday in the luxury Hôtel du Palais perched on the Basque region’s Atlantic shores.
Washington’s trade policies towards China and other countries have provoked anxiety in Europe because of their potential to damage global growth, and because EU countries face the threat that they will be next to be hit with US tariffs.
G7 member officials underscored the entrenched policy divisions but insisted they were still hopeful of finding common ground, including on the fraught question of reforming the World Trade Organization.
“There was agreement that uncertainty could contribute to an economic downturn,” one diplomat said of the leaders’ talks on the world economy. “There are different ideas on how to deal with that. Maybe WTO reform could be part of the solution.”
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