Trump’s aides struggle to detail car-tariff deal he says he cut with China
President Donald Trump’s advisers are scrambling to explain a trade deal he claimed he’d struck with China to reduce tariffs on U.S. cars exported to the country—an agreement that doesn’t exist on paper and still hasn’t been confirmed in Beijing.
In the day after Trump announced the deal in a two-sentence Twitter post, the White House provided no additional information. Meanwhile, China hasn’t formulated its response because bureaucrats are awaiting the return home of President Xi Jinping, according to three officials who were briefed but declined to be named as the matter isn’t public.
Questioned about the agreement on Monday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, dialed back expectations and added qualifiers.
“I’ll call them ‘commitments’ at this point, which are—commitments are not necessarily a trade deal, but it’s stuff that they’re going to look at and presumably implement,” Kudlow told reporters at an official White House briefing on Monday that followed TV interviews and informal briefings by him and Mnuchin earlier in the day.
The apparent move on auto tariffs was part of a broader trade truce struck by Trump and the Chinese president during a dinner in Buenos Aires on Saturday night.
The uncertainty over the specifics of the agreement underscored the risk entailed by Trump’s eagerness to strike deals without nailing down details in advance. The confusion was exacerbated by the absence of a joint statement from the U.S. and China following the dinner.
Officials in Beijing did not respond to requests for an explanation and neither did the Chinese embassy in Washington.
Trump nevertheless praised himself for the dinner, and abandoned nuance in claiming on Twitter that China had agreed to immediately buy more U.S. farm products, in addition to dropping car tariffs.
China imposed a retaliatory 25 percent tariff on imports of cars from the U.S. over the summer in response to Trump’s own tariffs. That’s added on top of a 15 percent tariff that Beijing charges for imports from the rest of the world, leaving U.S. auto exporters facing a 40 percent levy at the Chinese border.
In his briefing with reporters, Kudlow said he assumed that the Chinese would eventually drop their auto tariffs altogether. Such a change would have to apply to all countries under World Trade Organization rules.
“We don’t yet have a specific agreement on that,” Kudlow said, apparently contradicting Trump’s tweet on the matter. “But I will just tell you, as an involved participant, we expect those tariffs to go to zero.”
Asked why the auto tariffs weren’t mentioned in statements the U.S. and China issued after the dinner, Kudlow inexplicably insisted that they were. “I don’t agree with that,” he said.