Doubts over the future of trade between the United States and China have surfaced over the past day after President Donald Trump suggested that he could abandon the deal between the two countries despite top negotiators’ assurances that “good progress” was being made.
In an interview with Fox News on Friday, Trump said he felt “differently” today than he did when Washington and Beijing signed their “phase one” trade agreement early this year.
“I’m having a very hard time with China. I made a great trade deal months before this whole thing happened,” he said, referencing the coronavirus pandemic.
His comments came just hours after Chinese Vice Premier Liu He participated in a conference call with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. In a release yesterday, the two governmental departments said they discussed trade issues between Washington and Beijing, as well as updates on the COVID-19 health crisis and its impact on economic growth.
“Both sides [the U.S. and China] agreed that good progress is being made on creating the governmental infrastructures necessary to make the agreement a success,” the joint statement read. “They also agreed that in spite of the current global health emergency, both countries fully expect to meet their obligations under the agreement in a timely manner.”
Over the past four years, tariffs have been a significant focus for Trump, who has promised to resurrect U.S. manufacturing by slapping steep tariffs on foreign competitors, particularly China. After months of trade disputes, in mid-January, Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping struck a truce, which included a commitment from China to increase its purchases of U.S. goods and services by $200 billion over the next two years, compared with the amount in 2017. That figure includes $76.7 billion more in U.S. exports this year, plus another $123.3 billion in 2021.
However, according to data released by the Commerce Department this week, China’s purchases of U.S. goods and services within the first three months of the year were below 2017’s levels by more than $7 billion. Over the weekend, Trump threatened that he could “terminate” the trade deal between the world’s two largest economies if China failed to buy the amount of goods and services from the U.S. as promised.
Tensions between Washington and Beijing are already at a high amid the coronavirus pandemic, particularly after the U.S. alleged that China had mishandled the outbreak and contributed to a global economic fallout. COVID-19, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has now claimed at least 273,000 lives around the world and sickened more than 3.91 million people.