U.S. President Donald Trump, a day after reaching a truce in the escalating trade dispute with Europe, characterized his talks with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker as a big economic victory and a historic agreement. But he provided few details.
“We just opened up Europe for you farmers,” Trump said at a roundtable event in Iowa. “You have just gotten yourself one big market.”
Iowa is among the Midwestern farming states hit by retaliatory tariffs on soybeans and other products, imposed by China in response to tariffs imposed on Chinese goods by the U.S. president.
Later in the afternoon, Trump addressed steelmakers in Granite City, Illinois, saying, “We’re not going to give China or any other country a veto on United States national security.”
Europe has “agreed to purchase, almost immediately, large amounts of American soybeans because China tried to hurt the American farmer,” Trump said.
The president said his administration had taken the “toughest-ever actions in response to China’s very abusive trade practices,” accusing Beijing of massive theft of American intellectual property.
Trump also said that as a result of his tariffs imposed on trading partners, “idle factories throughout our nation are roaring back to life.”
Amid the vague commitments for European purchases of soybeans, and constructing terminals to store additional liquified natural gas from the United States, Trump and Juncker on Wednesday committed to holding off on additional tariffs while trans-Atlantic negotiations are held.
U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin describes it as “an agreement in principle,” while Trump told the Iowa audience he and Juncker “agreed to a letter of intent.”
French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday threw cold water on any sweeping agreement, arguing “the context doesn’t allow it.”
Macron explained he is against agricultural discussions in the trade talks, also adding that the Trump administration must make clear gestures over the “illegal” steel and aluminum tariffs still in place.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, speaking to reporters during the Air Force One flight to Iowa, credited Trump’s tariffs on the metals for the previous day’s breakthrough at the White House.
“To get there, we had to take a route of trying to make it more painful for the other parties to continue bad practices than to drop them,” Ross said. “This is a real vindication of the president’s trade policy.”
While no auto tariffs will be imposed on the EU while talks continue, Ross said, “We’ve been directed by the president to continue the investigation, get our material together but not actually implement anything, pending the outcome of the negotiation.”
He said they would submit their report on auto tariffs sometime in August. Imposing them “may not be necessary,” he added.
In the meantime, “steel and aluminum tariffs stay in place,” Ross said.
The comments by Trump and Ross indicate the administration could be willing to negotiate a pact akin to the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), on which negotiations have stopped.
A day before the Oval Office meeting between Trump and Juncker, the U.S. Agriculture Department announced it was making $12 billion available to American farmers harmed by tariffs.
Pressed whether the money was a bailout, Mnuchin on Thursday responded, “We’re not bailing out any farmers, that’s a ridiculous comment. It’s not a bailout.” He added that when “other countries unfairly and illegally target our farmers, we will stand up and fight for them.”
Appearing before the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee for Commerce on Thursday, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told lawmakers, “It is certainly not our plan to have small business or agriculture or anyone else in America feel the brunt of a change in trade policy which is designed to make the U.S. stronger and richer, help our exports, and help all American businesses and farmers and ranchers.”
The tariffs imposed by the Trump administration came under criticism during the hearing, including from members of Trump’s party.
Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander said the “tariff taxes that the administration had placed began to look like, ‘I’ve got a problem, so I’ll shoot myself in one foot; I’ve got [another] problem, so I’ll shoot myself in the other foot.'”
Another Republican senator, Jerry Moran of Kansas, said, “Trade and exports are how we earn a living in Kansas, and farmers, ranchers, and our nation’s manufacturers cannot afford a prolonged trade war.”
Following a closed-door meeting of congressional Republicans, Representative Roger Williams, who owns a car dealership in Texas, said dealers are canceling orders with auto manufacturers because they are fearful of tariffs, as well as rising interest rates.
Twenty-two Republican members of the House Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade have sent a letter to Trump urging him to meet directly with Chinese President Xi Jinping to forge a trade agreement.
“Our shared objective is long-term and enduring reform in Chinese subsidies, tariffs, and other trade barriers,” the lawmakers say in their letter. “While tariffs cause short-term economic pain to China, they also boomerang on American companies, farmers, workers, and consumers — and we hear every day from Americans who are caught in a destructive cycle of escalation. A lasting solution can be established only through fundamental change to the Chinese system. Timely and astute negotiations under your leadership are essential to accomplishing this goal.”
Mike Bowman contributed to this report.