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Trump will not retreat on China tariffs, officials say

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said President Donald Trump

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin said President Donald Trump is "determined as ever" to work out a trade deal with China. Credit: AFP / Getty Images / Erin Schaff

WASHINGTON — White House officials on Sunday insisted President Donald Trump would not retreat from increasing tariffs on Chinese goods, hours after the president suggested to reporters in France that he had "second thoughts” about escalating the trade war with China.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, appearing on "Fox News Sunday," said Trump was “determined as ever” on reaching a new trade deal with China, even if it meant an initial tit for tat on tariffs between the two nations.

"The president is determined to have fair and reciprocal trade with China," Mnuchin told Fox host Chris Wallace. "This morning's comments weren't meant to back that off. It was meant to say he is as determined as ever on this issue. He wants a good deal."

Trump, attending the G-7 summit of world leaders in Biarritz, France, was asked Sunday if he had any second thoughts on escalating the trade war with China. The question came two days after Trump announced in a series of tweets plans to impose a 5 percent tariff hike on Chinese goods in response to China announcing on Friday new tariffs on U.S. imports.

“Yeah, sure why not. Might as well. Might as well,” Trump responded. “I have second thoughts about everything.”

Hours later White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement saying Trump’s answer had been “greatly misinterpreted,” adding that Trump “responded in the affirmative, because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher.”

Mnuchin and White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, appearing on the Sunday morning political talk show circuit, echoed Grisham’s talking points.

“His thought was if he had any second thoughts, and he said sometimes he does, he would have actually raised the tariff, not lower it,” Kudlow told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

Under a plan announced by Trump on Friday, the United States is expected to raise tariffs to 30 percent on $250 billion in Chinese goods that were slated to be taxed starting Oct. 1. The United States on Sept. 1 will also increase tariffs on another set of imported Chinese products to 15 percent. Trump’s announcement came after China announced it would impose tariffs on $75 billion in American products.

Kudlow told “Face the Nation” host Margaret Brennan that both countries were “protecting their turf” but were still resuming ongoing trade negotiations.

“The negotiations between the two great countries continue,” Kudlow said. “We had deputies teleconference meeting last week. Another one is coming up this week and the principals still expect the Chinese team to come to the United States in September. So both countries seem to be protecting their turf here. But the talks and negotiations continue and I think that's very positive.”

Asked about Trump declaring on Twitter that he “hereby ordered” American companies to pull back from doing business with China, both Mnuchin and Kudlow claimed Trump had authority under the little used Emergency Economic Powers Act of 1977 to enforce such a demand, but said he did not intend to immediately stop all private business dealings between both countries.

"I think what he was saying is he's ordering companies to start looking because he wants to make sure, to the extent we are in an extended trade war, that companies don't have these issues and move out of China," Mnuchin told "Fox News Sunday."

Kudlow, appearing on “Face the Nation" asserted that “there's no immediate action here. He just put that out there."

 “Look I've heard him say this time and time again the couple of years I've been working here, he said it to individual businesses, he said it to the big business groups, he's asking them to come home," Kudlow said. "Come back home to America. We're giving you low taxes and low regulations and an entrepreneurial environment. So in a sense this is nothing new. Maybe the way it was phrased was a little tougher than usual.”

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