LONDON – President Donald Trump signaled Tuesday that the White House’s trade war with China could drag on for some time after he said it might be better to wait to sign an agreement with Beijing until after the 2020 presidential election.
“In some ways, I like the idea of waiting until after the election for the China deal, but they want to make a deal now and we will see whether or not the deal is going to be right,” Trump told reporters in London, where he is taking part in two days of NATO meetings that coincide with the military alliance’s 70th anniversary.
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The U.S. election will take place in November next year.
“I have no deadline, no … In some ways I think it is better to wait until after the election, if you want to know the truth,” Trump added, when pressed about whether he had a deadline for the deal that, while it is being worked out, has seen the U.S. and China impose billions of dollars of tariffs on each other’s goods since 2018.
The next deadline to reach a deal is Dec. 15. Trump has threatened to impose 15% levies on an additional $160 billion in Chinese goods if an accord is not reached by that date. The looming deadline and Trump’s remarks Tuesday unnerved stock markets.
U.S. stocks were down over 300 points, or 1.4%, on the Dow Jones Industrial Average in trading Tuesday on Wall Street, according to MarketWatch, a financial news website. The Dow fell 268 points on Monday after Trump said he would re-introduce steel tariffs on Brazil and Argentina because their currencies have dropped.
“Well, you have a logical deadline Dec. 15,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told Fox Business Network. “If nothing happens between now and then, the president has made quite clear he’ll put the tariffs in – the increased tariffs.”
As Trump arrived in London on Tuesday night, he also threatened a trade war with France. The White House said it was considering imposing tariffs on up to $2.4 billion worth of French goods, such as cheese and wine, in response to a digital services tax targeting U.S. technology companies such as Amazon, Facebook and Google.
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A senior adviser to China’s government told USA TODAY earlier this year that multiple delays by the U.S. and China to reach a final, substantive trade deal, are largely because of Trump’s concerns about the 2020 election.
“Look, Christmas is coming. He wants to be president again. American consumers are not going to accept higher prices on all these goods. He can claim victory any time he wants but that doesn’t mean he’s won or that a deal has actually been reached,” said Huiyao Wang, who spoke to USA TODAY on the sidelines of a geopolitical conference.
Wang was replying to questions about an emerging trade deal between the U.S. and China that Trump outlined in October. Wang was appointed to China’s state council in 2015 by China’s Vice Premier Liu He, the country’s second-in-command.
There no indication Trump has tried to time the negotiations for political benefit.
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Contributing: David Jackson in Washington