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Trade war

Trump gives Wall Street no clarity, calling China deal 'close'

President says tariffs will go up substantially if no deal is made

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks at the New York Hilton Midtown hotel Nov. 12.   © AP

NEW YORK -- U.S. President Donald Trump said Tuesday that a phase 1 trade deal with China is "close" but threatened a further tariff hike if no agreement is reached.

"We're close," Trump said in a speech for the Economic Club of New York at a Hilton hotel in midtown Manhattan. "A significant phase 1 trade deal with China could happen -- could happen soon, but we will only accept a deal if it's good for the United States and our workers and our great companies because we've been hit very hard."

"If we don't make a deal, we're going to substantially raise those tariffs," Trump later told corporate executives in the Q&A session.

Trump, a lifelong New Yorker until he recently changed his residence to Florida, had spoken at the forum three years ago as the Republican presidential candidate. Trade with China was among his most important campaign issues.

Now seeking reelection in 2020, he continued with China rhetoric similar to what he used on the campaign trail.

China "ransacked our companies, stole our intellectual property, subsidized their industries at the expense of ours, and dumped their products in a deliberate strategy to close American factories all across our land," Trump said in Tuesday's speech.

Questioned by Hess Corp. CEO John Hess, who cited "a growing consensus that the trade war has a cost and is weighing on our economic growth and capital spending" and said that "a number of industrial sectors have recently been hurt," Trump responded: "They haven't been hurt. You know, they were totally down -- now they are a little bit down because a little bit, perhaps, the uncertainty of trade wars, but there is no uncertainty."

"The real cost, John, would be if we did nothing" about China, he maintained.

Trump did not touch on a much-hoped-for rollback of tariffs, which he said last week that he had not agreed to even after Chinese and American officials had both confirmed it as part of an agreement.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up more than 60 points at one point ahead of the Tuesday speech but dropped below its market-opening level in afternoon trading.

Trump's highly anticipated remarks came as Wall Street looked eagerly for clarity on trade negotiations with China in light of conflicting accounts on a possible tariff rollback that would have a tangible positive impact on bilateral trade.

"Few people were expecting a comprehensive deal," said James Sweeney, chief economist at Credit Suisse, to the Nikkei Asian Review on Sunday. "I think the key metric is the average tariff rate."

"The expected tariff rate has gone from 3% to ... 26% and is now around 23%," Sweeney said. "The deal seems to suggest that it may be between 19% to 23% at the end of this year. If that is achieved, I think that will placate markets."

The Trump administration decided last month not to raise tariffs to 30% from 25% on about $250 billion in Chinese goods as planned on Oct. 15 after negotiating teams made "significant" progress in Washington.

A phase 1 trade deal, widely expected to be signed by year-end, would cover such areas as purchases of American farm products, Chinese currency policy and intellectual property protection, the two sides revealed in October.

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