WASHINGTON (AP) -
President Donald Trump talked tough on trade on the campaign trail, vowing
to renegotiate a slew of major deals and to label China a currency
manipulator on “Day One.” Now his administration appears to be taking a more
On Friday, the
president will sign a pair of executive orders aimed at cracking down on
trade abuses. The orders come a week before the president is scheduled to
host President Xi Jinping of China at his estate in Florida. The U.S. has
its highest trade deficit with China at $347 billion last year.
But Peter Navarro,
director of the White House National Trade Council, insisted the orders had
nothing to do with the visit and were not an attempt to send a message to
saying tonight is about China. Let’s not make this a China story. This is a
story about trade abuses, this is a story about an under-collection of
duties,” he told reporters at a Thursday evening briefing.
The first of the
two orders Trump will sign calls for completion of a large-scale report to
identify “every form of trade abuse and every non-reciprocal practice that
now contributes to the U.S. trade deficit,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur
Ross. Officials will have 90 days to produce a country-by-country,
product-by-product report that will serve as the basis of future
decision-making by the administration on trade-related issues.
demonstrate the administration’s intention not to hip-shoot, not to do
anything casual, not to do anything abruptly, but to take a very measured
and analytical approach, both to analyzing the problem and therefore to
developing the solutions for it,” he said, describing the report as the
first of its kind.
While Trump has
long argued that trade deficits imperil U.S. workers, Ross cautioned that
they aren’t necessarily all bad. In some cases, for instance, the U.S.
simply can’t produce enough of a product to meet domestic demand. In others,
foreign countries may make products substantially cheaper or better than in
the U.S. Deficits in trade can also mean that foreign countries and entities
are investing in U.S. assets.
The report, Ross
said, will examine whether deficits are being driven by things like
cheating, specific trade obligations, lax enforcement and World Trade
Ross argued the
U.S. has the lowest tariff rates of any developed country. But a World Bank
report contradicts that claim: The report found that the weighted average
U.S. tariff in 2012 was 1.6 percent. That is below the global average, but
it’s still higher than countries in the European Union such as Germany and
France, as well as Singapore and Hong Kong, which both have average rates of
Ross said the
report would not focus extensively on currency manipulation, which is under
the purview of the U.S. Treasury Department, despite Trump’s campaign
The second order
will focus on stepping up the collection of anti-dumping and countervailing
duties, which are levied against foreign governments that subsidize products
so they can be sold below cost.
Navarro said the
U.S. is leaving billions of dollars on the table as a result of lax
enforcement of commitments in trade pacts. The order will establish more
effective bonding requirements, among other measures.
Trump said at a
meeting with the National Association of Manufacturers that he’ll been
signing the “two very powerful executive orders” Friday afternoon.
Thursday evening that his first meeting with the Chinese leader would “be a
very difficult one in that we can no longer have massive trade deficits ...
and job losses.”
must be prepared to look at other alternatives,” he wrote. But Navarro
declined to comment, insisting, “We’re not here for tweets.”
The U.S. trade
deficit totaled $502.3 billion last year, a slight increase from 2015,
according to the Commerce Department. The trade gap rose to its highest
level since 2012 last year, though the imbalance remains below its 2006
high, shortly before the Great Recession struck.
Trump has portrayed
trade deficits as strangling economic growth and devastating factory jobs at
home. Research last year by academic economists, including David Autor of
the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, found that China’s emergence hurt
some communities and they have yet to fully recover.
But foreign trade
has also helped reduce prices for clothing, cars and furniture, among other
items. This has created savings for U.S. consumers.