President Donald Trump on Monday dimmed the prospects of restarting talks with China any time soon to resolve an escalating trade dispute between the two nations.
Speaking in the Rose Garden at the White House, Trump said it was “too early to talk” with his counterparts in Beijing on trade. He did not specify what it might take to kick-start a conversation.
“China wants to talk very badly,” Trump said after announcing a renewed trade deal with Mexico and Canada. “And I said, frankly, it’s too early to talk. Can’t talk now because they’re not ready. Because they have been ripping us for so many years, it doesn’t happen that quickly.”
Last month, the Trump administration escalated the trade rift by slapping an additional 10% tariff on $200 billion in Chinese goods. The levy will increase to 25% at the end of the year.
The additional tariffs are on top of penalties enacted earlier this year on $50 billion worth of Chinese goods. Taken together, it means roughly half of the products that China sells to the United States each year will be hit by American tariffs.
Trump said he is using the threat of tariffs as leverage to secure a deal with Beijing.
“I’m using them to negotiate,” Trump said about the recently imposed tariffs against China. “We’re using tariffs very successfully to negotiate.”
He warned if the two sides were unable to reach an agreement, further tariffs would be imposed. Trump has previously threatened to launch a third round of tariffs on $267 billion in goods on China.
US Ambassador Robert Lighthizer told reporters Monday that securing a deal with Canada and Mexico should send a signal to China that the president is willing to strike a deal, as long as it’s a good one.
“He doesn’t want them to necessarily be agreements that are all one-sided,” Lighthizer added.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin had been working steadily to restart negotiations with Beijing. But those efforts were derailed last month after Trump pressed aides to go forward with a second tranche of tariffs.
“If politically, people force it too quickly, you’re not going to make the right deal for our workers and for our country,” Trump said. “But China wants to talk. We want to talk to them. We want them to help us with North Korea. We want them to continue to help us with North Korea. That’s very important.”
During an interview Monday evening on Fox News, Mnuchin backed Trump’s comments.
“If China wants to put proposals on the table and they are willing to make meaningful differences and protect our technology and have fair and balanced trade, we’ll listen,” Mnuchin said, hours after Trump spoke. “But we’re in no rush.”
– CNN’s Jeremy Diamond contributed to this report.