Larry Kudlow, the head of the National Economic Council that advises President Donald Trump, said the administration is targeting China with possible tariffs after “decades of misdeeds” have made the country an unfair trading partner with the United States.
"Somebody's got to do it. Somebody's got to say to China, 'you are no longer a third world country. You are a first world country and you have to act like it,'" Kudlow said. "The president's got to stick up for himself and the United States." Kudlow spoke in an interview on cable channel CNBC, where he used to work as an anchor and senior commentator.
Kudlow’s comments followed an early morning tweet from the president, who blamed China for setting 25 percent tariffs on cars imported from the United States. Trump campaigned on repeated pledges to renegotiate trade agreements that he blamed for hollowing out the U.S. industrial base, sending jobs to foreign countries and accelerated the decline of middle-class America.
The back-and-forth threats between the U.S. and China have whipsawed stocks in the past week. The Dow Jones Industrial Average rose 320 points, or 1.3 percent, to 24,253 by mid-day Monday after administration officials softened the message on tariffs over the weekend. The Dow plunged 572 points on Friday after Trump exchanged tariff threats with China.
Kudlow is a long-time advocate for free trade as a way of building wealth for all countries, but he has sharpened his criticism of China for unfair practices such as not respecting U.S. intellectual property. He also praised Trump’s withdrawal from the Paris Climate Agreement that former President Barack Obama supported.
"[Trump] is responding to decades of misdeeds by China trade. It's high time we did that," he said. "This president's got some backbone. Others didn't, and he's raising the issue in full public view, setting up a process that may include tariffs. Hopefully, it will be mostly negotiations. I don't know if we'll have tariffs or not."
The gap between Chinese goods imported to the United States and American goods exported to China rose to a record $375.2 billion last year, up from $347 billion the prior year, the Commerce Department said in February.
The U.S. Trade Representative last year presented a report Congress that highlighted the many non-tariff barriers that American companies face when trying to do business in the communist country.
“Chinese government officials, acting without fear of legal challenge, at times require foreign enterprises to transfer technology as a condition for securing investments approvals,” the report said.
Major areas of concern also include inadequate enforcement of intellectual property rights, policies that favor state-run companies, government subsidies, limits on U.S. agricultural products and a general lack of transparency, according to the trade office.
Trump last month appointed Kudlow to be the top adviser on the economy, replacing Gary Cohn, the former president of Goldman Sachs who had worked at the White House since inauguration. Kudlow, who worked as an economist in the Reagan administration, advised the Trump campaign on policy.
Kudlow said he didn’t like the across-the-board steel and aluminum tariffs announced last month, but Trump fixed that with the exemptions that included Canada and Mexico, pending a successful reworking of the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
"I have no specifics to offer this morning, but I will say progress is being made on renegotiating and re-calibrating NAFTA. Good progress is being made on that," he said.
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