US President Donald Trump was briefed on Saturday by trade envoy Robert Lighthizer on US trade with China, a White House spokeswoman said.
The briefing comes as the administration considers whether to impose broad restrictions on steel and aluminium imports, and punitive actions against Beijing arising from an investigation into its alleged theft of intellectual property.
Lighthizer also briefed Trump on China’s economy and pending trade enforcement actions, as well as
talks on revising the North American Free Trade Agreement (Nafta) with Canada and Mexico, Lindsay Walters said in a statement from Florida, where Trump is staying at his Mar-a-Lago resort. She did not elaborate.
China’s trade surplus with the United States rose to a record high of US$275.8 billion last year, or about 65 per cent of its total global trade surplus, the General Administration of Customs said on Friday.
Trump’s opportunity to impose new tariffs or trade quotas follows a US Commerce Department Section 232 investigation that looked into whether foreign steel imports were a threat to US national security. The department submitted the long-awaited report to the White House on Thursday.
Next week, the results of a separate investigation of rising aluminium imports will go to the White House.
China’s excess production capacity for both steel and aluminium has emerged as a major trade irritant for the United States and Europe, prompting them to consider new steps to protect domestic industries and jobs from a flood of Chinese imports.
Jiang Yuechun, a senior research fellow at the China Institute of International Studies in Beijing, said he expected Trump to take a hard line because of how long the trade imbalance between the two countries had been allowed to go unchecked under previous administrations.
“The framework of the US-China strategic partnership was formed amid stable bilateral diplomatic relations, but with the ‘America first’ policy and Beijing’s record high trade surplus, the Trump administration will be playing hardball,” he said.
“It’s possible that the US will impose restrictions on China’s steel and aluminium imports, or take punitive measures against other sectors.”
Lighthizer is also preparing for the next round of Nafta talks in Montreal. Washington has taken a hard line in the negotiations, which appear stalled with just two rounds left, saying that concessions are the only way for Canada and Mexico to keep the deal.
Canada this week welcomed Trump’s suggestion that Nafta talks could be extended beyond March when Mexico’s presidential election campaign kicks into high gear.
Additional reporting by Minnie Chan