Trump Blames Tariff Critics for Weakening U.S. Bargaining Power

(Bloomberg) -- President Donald Trump lit into critics of his tariffs, saying discord -- some from Republicans in Congress -- undercuts his ability to narrow the U.S. trade gaps with other countries.

"When you have people snipping at your heels during a negotiation, it will only take longer to make a deal, and the deal will never be as good as it could have been with unity," Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday. "Negotiations are going really well, be cool. The end result will be worth it!"

Trump’s latest shot comes as some fellow Republicans slammed his plan to offer as much as $12 billion in aid to U.S. farmers hit by the burgeoning trade war. Extra farm aid would benefit producers seeing prices drop and inventories rise because of disputes with China, Canada and other trade partners who are significant purchasers of U.S. pork, soybeans and other crops.

Meanwhile, European leaders are expected to meet with Trump at the White House Wednesday in a last-ditch attempt to dissuade him from imposing tariffs on European car exports to the U.S., in what could deal a serious blow to the 28-nation bloc’s economy.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom plan to signal the bloc’s willingness to negotiate a bilateral trade agreement with the U.S. on manufactured goods, or a so-called plurilateral sectoral agreement between all major car exporters, which would cut or eliminate tariffs on automobiles globally. Still, Europe has prepared $20 billion in retaliatory measures if Trump follows through with his threat.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow said Wednesday that the Trump administration doesn’t want to get into the habit of bailing out industries and has tried to stick to “trade not aid” as a guiding principal. But the current world trade guidelines are skewed against the U.S. and Trump inherited unfair trading practices, Kudlow told CBS in an interview.

"What we’ve put on the board is what I think is a temporary assistance measure, I don’t think it’s going to get near to $12 billion," he said of the farm subsidies. "Nobody’s really thrilled about this. We’re just trying to protect American agriculture from some of the unfair trading practices."

The plan has failed to sway skeptics on Capitol Hill, including Republicans from politically important agricultural states.

Thoughts, Prayers

“My thoughts are the thoughts of farmers. They want trade, not aid. It’s really just that simple,” said Senator Ron Johnson, a Republican from Wisconsin.

Trump lashed out at those he termed weak politicians asking to end tariffs that the president has sought to use to reduce a trade deficit he said was $817 billion last year. It was unclear where Trump got that figure. Data from the Commerce Department put the 2017 U.S. trade deficit at $552.3 billion.

Kudlow said in another interview on Fox Wednesday that a one-on-one meeting between Trump and Juncker is “going to be absolutely crucial," but that expectations “are so low” that there may be an upside to the outcome.

Retaliation to Trump’s tariffs has targeted politically sensitive states. China responded to Trump’s 25 percent levies on $34 billion in Chinese goods earlier this month by focusing on U.S. agricultural exports that come from states that supported Trump in the 2016 election.

“China is targeting our farmers, who they know I love & respect, as a way of getting me to continue allowing them to take advantage of the U.S.,” Trump tweeted Wednesday. “They are being vicious in what will be their failed attempt. We were being nice - until now!”

Trade Gap

While Trump said “China made $517 Billion on us last year,” the U.S. trade gap with China was $376 billion in 2017, according to Census Bureau data. That was up almost $30 billion from the previous year.

The Trump administration has also identified an additional $200 billion of Chinese products that it’s considering imposing a 10 percent tariff on, which could be enacted as early as next month. Beijing has threatened to retaliate against any further U.S. tariffs.

The administration has also looked to protect specific industries with new tariffs, including a round of levies on imported metals. The 25 percent tariff on steel and 10 percent on aluminum impacted not only China, which the U.S. blames for flooding the market with excess capacity, but traditional U.S. allies like the European Union, Canada, and Mexico.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.