US President Donald Trump said on Friday that “nobody cares about trade” amid the Covid-19 pandemic, brushing off questions about whether he reached any tariff agreements with his Chinese counterpart Xi Jinping in a recent phone conversation.
Trump also denied a Wall Street Journal report that came out during his briefing, which said that his administration was preparing to suspend some tariffs amid the pandemic.
“President Xi never even brought it up last night. It wasn’t even discussed,” said Trump, calling the report “fake news”.
Trump made a rebalancing of trade with China a cornerstone of his foreign policy when he took office in January 2017, a priority that prompted him to slap punitive tariffs of up to 25 per cent on US$360 billion worth of imports from the country.
After more than a dozen rounds of negotiations, the two sides reached a “phase-one” trade agreement in January under which China will buy an additional US$200 billion American goods and services over two years. That includes US$32 billion in agricultural products.
“I must tell you this whole invisible enemy has taken over the world,” the president said in a daily briefing at the White House. “It’s hard to talk about ‘hey how you doing with buying from the farmers’.”
Trump's remarks came as the confirmed cases in the US for Covid-19 exceeded 101,000 with more than 1,500 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University figures as of Friday afternoon.
Earlier on Friday, the House of Representatives gave final passage to a rescue package of US$2 trillion, the third relief bill that lawmakers have produced to bolster the government’s capacity to handle the outbreak and mitigate its economic fallout. The bill will now go to Trump to sign.
Trump and Xi promised to cooperate to contain the Covid-19 pandemic when they spoke on Thursday following a G20 video conference summit. It was the first time the leaders had spoken with each other since February.
At the signing ceremony for the bill, Trump touted his relationship with Xi and the spirit of cooperation he said they had enjoyed during their call.
“We have great communication together,” the US president said. “We are going to send great data. Much of it has been sent yesterday to our scientists to study.” Trump also had spoken highly of China and Xi on Twitter: “China has developed a strong understanding of the Virus,” the president wrote in a tweet. “We are working closely together. Much respect!”
Trump said on Friday that the two countries were working together closely, while Xi said China would support the US, but also called on Washington to take concrete steps to push forward cooperation.
The Wall Street Journal report cited Trump administration officials as saying they are planning to suspend collection of import tariffs on Chinese goods for three months to reduce the burden on US companies paying the levies.
With nearly half the country’s population living under stay-at-home guidance, the US is still playing catch-up in its containment strategy, leaving hospitals in hotspots on both coasts struggling to cope with the rapidly rising case numbers.
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