U.S. Puts Trade War On Hold While Talking With China, Mnuchin Says Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin says the U.S. and China have agreed on a trade framework. Steve Inskeep talks to William Zarit, head of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce in Beijing.

U.S. Puts Trade War On Hold While Talking With China, Mnuchin Says

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The United States is backing off a threat to impose more tariffs on China. President Trump's treasury secretary, Steven Mnuchin, spoke with Fox after talks to resolve a trade fight.


STEVEN MNUCHIN: We've made very meaningful progress, and we agreed on a framework. We're putting the trade war on hold.

INSKEEP: Yet it is not clear what progress has been made. Here's Larry Kudlow, the president's National Economic Council director, speaking to ABC.


LARRY KUDLOW: There's no agreement for a deal. We never anticipated one. There's a communique between the two great countries. That's all. And in that communique, you can see where we're going to go next.

INSKEEP: That reportedly involves a commitment for China to reduce its trade surplus with the United States over the years by buying more American goods. William Zarit is chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China, so he has an interest in all of this. And he's on the line from Beijing.

Welcome back to the program, sir.

WILLIAM ZARIT: Thank you, sir.

INSKEEP: Do you think you understand what's going on here?

ZARIT: (Laughter) Well, it's not really clear. Companies here are breathing a sigh of relief. They think that at least the tariffs that had been - they thought were coming might be delayed a while. But we're really not clear how long or what the result of the talks are.

INSKEEP: It sounds like what China has done is give some kind of agreement, in principle, that they're going to try to reduce the trade surplus with the United States - or what we see as a trade deficit, of course. But it's not clear exactly how. Is that good enough? Is that a good enough commitment from China, to generally promise to try to get their surplus down?

ZARIT: Well, if the past is prologue, it would not be. For years, we have had discussions with the Chinese through several different bilateral programs. And we really didn't get much in terms of follow-up and enforcement. Now, our friends here in China are saying, well, this is a new era; a new leader, Xi Jinping. And he has said this. He's said that. And he said he's going to open up and level the playing field. So I have to just have a wait-and-see attitude. But some people here are a little more optimistic.

INSKEEP: OK. Well, setting aside what Xi Jinping says or doesn't say, is the economy in China evolving in such a way that - I don't know - Chinese consumers might be buying more American products, might just want more American stuff?

ZARIT: I think they will. If tariffs go down on certain goods - food products and other products, even machinery, technical products - that Chinese would buy more of them. However, I don't know how much more. And I must say that - I want to make sure that we don't miss this opportunity because we don't feel that it's just about buying more goods. We really feel it's more about the structural issues between the two economies. You know, our two economies are not exactly totally compatible. One is state capitalism. One is based on competition and market forces. And we really have a need to reconcile those differences.

INSKEEP: Yeah, you've got some inefficiencies that maybe cost everybody some money.

Let me ask about one other thing before I let you go. Does it make sense to revisit penalties on ZTE, which is something President Trump has said he wanted to do? This, I'll remind people, is a company that was sanctioned - a Chinese company sanctioned for working with Iran, working with North Korea, suspected of spying in the United States. But President Trump wants to cut them a break if he can.

ZARIT: Yeah. And ZTE has also done some things, allegedly, in third countries in terms of corruption and so forth.

So I have heard some folks say that the U.S. punishment didn't need to be so draconian. And I've heard, then, another group that says, why are we giving these guys any slack? I think if we can work with the Chinese and get something good out of a negotiation and we still remain within the law of the United States, that we should consider it.

INSKEEP: Oh, really? So there might be a little bit of room to use this as a negotiating card?

ZARIT: I think so, sir.

INSKEEP: OK. Mr. Zarit, always a pleasure talking with you. Thank you very much.

ZARIT: Thank you.

INSKEEP: William Zarit is chairman of the American Chamber of Commerce in China. He speaks with us on this day after Steven Mnuchin, the treasury secretary, said a trade war with China is, as Mnuchin put it, on hold.

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