President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned that his administration will not hesitate to levy further tariffs on Chinese imports should trade talks between the U.S. and China falter.
Trump's warning came days after he met Chinese President Xi Jinping for a working dinner at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires, Argentina.
"The negotiations with China have already started," Trump wrote in a series of tweets. "Unless extended, they will end 90 days from the date of our wonderful and very warm dinner with President Xi in Argentina. [Top administration officials] will be working closely … [to see] whether or not a REAL deal with China is actually possible."
"President Xi and I want this deal to happen, and it probably will," Trump added. "But if not remember, I am a Tariff man."
According to an official White House account of the G20 meeting, Trump and Xi discussed ways to "reduce the trade imbalance between" the U.S. and China. To that end, Xi purportedly agreed to purchase a "not yet agreed upon" amount of agricultural, energy, and industrial product from U.S. manufacturers in exchange for the Trump administration deferring a pending increase in tariffs on more than $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.
The White House also said that Xi agreed to begin immediately purchasing agricultural products from American farmers—something that has yet to occur—and as a gesture of goodwill, announced that China will schedule fentanyl as a controlled substance. The latter action was meant to stem China's role in perpetuating the opioid epidemic.
Furthermore, the two countries agreed to commence negotiations on "structural changes" concerning "forced technology transfer, intellectual property protection, non-tariff barriers, cyber intrusions, and cyber theft," among other topics. U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is tasked with leading the talks in conjunction with the Treasury and Commerce departments, as well as Peter Navarro, the director of the White House office of trade and manufacturing policy. The negotiations will take place over the next 90 days. If at the 90-day deadline no deal is acceptable to both parties, the Trump administration will proceed with imposing a 25-percent tariff on more than $200 billion of Chinese imports. The current rate is set at 10 percent.
Trump praised the initial framework that he and Xi agreed to in Buenos Aires as an "incredible deal" with the potential to go "down as one of the largest deals ever made."
The Chinese government, however, has not signaled its recognition of the framework or the 90-day deadline. Additionally, Xi's regime has not made any movement to act on the promises the White House reported were made during the G20 meeting.
The meeting between XI and Trump at the G20 Summit was the culmination of a nearly year-long trade war between the two nations.
Trump, who ran for president in 2016 on a platform of holding China accountable for cyber espionage, currency manipulation, and intellectual property theft, has attempted to rectify Washington's trade deficit with Beijing by instituting tariffs on a variety of goods and services.
In January, the Trump administration specifically targeted China for its growing solar power industry, which by some accounts is the largest in the world, with a 30-percent tariff on imported solar panel components. At the time, Lighthizer's office said that such tariffs were the first step in ensuring "fair and sustainable trade." As a result, China reduced government subsidies for solar panel production, seeming to acquiesce to U.S. pressure.
Then in March, the Trump administration instituted a 25-percent tariff on steel and a 10-percent tariff on aluminum. Although officially billed as a measure to boost domestic steel production, the tariffs significantly affected China, which for years has dominated the international market with below-average steel and aluminum prices. A few months after being implemented, the tariffs led to a three-percent decrease in output for China's aluminum industry.
In June, Trump outlined more than 800 Chinese imports, valued at more than $50 billion, that would be subjected to a 25-percent tariff. The Chinese government retaliated by placing a 25-percent tariff on agricultural products, such as soybeans. In response, the Trump administration escalated by levying a 10-percent tariff on more than $200 billion of Chinese goods. When announcing the new round of tariffs in September, the president asserted that if China did not back down, the tariffs would increase to 25 percent by January 2019.
While both sides now appear eager to ease tensions, Trump pointed out on Tuesday that he is unwilling to blink in the face of China's silence.
"When people or countries come in to raid the great wealth of our Nation, I want them to pay for the privilege of doing so. It will always be the best way to max out our economic power," Trump wrote on Twitter. "But if a fair deal is able to be made with China, one that does all of the many things we know must be finally done, I will happily sign."
"Let the negotiations begin," Trump added.