Donald Trump’s top economic adviser acknowledged that the president said Germany is "very bad" when it comes to flooding the U.S. with cars, but insisted it wasn’t a dig at one of the U.S.’s most-important allies.
“He said, ‘They’re very bad on trade,’ but he doesn’t have a problem with Germany," Gary Cohn, director of the National Economic Council, said as Trump joined a meeting of the Group of Seven leaders in Sicily. "He said his dad is from Germany. He said, ‘I don’t have a problem with Germany, I have a problem with German trade’.”
The comments were splashed in the German press earlier and underline Trump’s distance from major allies on display already in Sicily and yesterday at the NATO summit in Brussels. In a visit that included his hectoring of allies over defense spending and a rebuke by the U.K. over leaked intelligence, Trump singled out manufacturers for contributing to lopsided trade deficits.
Trump misspoke slightly when describing his father’s German heritage. Fred Trump was born in New York City but Trump’s grandfather came to New York from Germany.
Cohn also said Trump and the U.S. delegation are “not sure what’s going to happen,” at a G-7 gathering focused on climate change and trade but that the president was very open to hearing the views of the other leaders.
"He was very clear and transparent on what his point of view has been. We want to have an open dialogue. It’s intimate, it’s a small group, so you don’t know where it’s going to go," Cohn said. Many G-7 members, including "some new, some old, are very much in tune with the philosophy of, ‘Let’s get together and talk and see what we can agree on’."
“If you know how it’s going to go then what’s the point?” Cohn said. He also hinted that Trump is “leaning to understanding the European position” that the U.S. must stay in the Paris climate accord but wants to hear directly from the allies.
When asked about Trump’s comments on German trade as reported in Der Spiegel, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker confirmed the gist of them while pointing out that they’d been exaggerated due to a translation error.
“The Germans are bad, very bad,” Der Spiegel cited Trump as saying, citing unidentified participants at a closed-door meeting between Trump and EU officials in Brussels. “Look at the millions of cars that they sell in the U.S. Terrible. We’re going to stop that.”
While German Chancellor Angela Merkel has yet to address the criticism publicly, her government was quick to respond.
“Germany’s position on the issue of trade balances and surpluses is well known,” German government spokesman Georg Streiter told reporters in Berlin. “A surplus is neither good nor evil. It’s the result of supply and demand.”
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