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Europe to Impose New Tariffs on US Goods

The European Union is set to impose tariffs Friday on billions of dollars worth of American goods — including jeans, bourbon and motorcycles.

The action is the latest retaliation against U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision to slap import tariffs on steel and aluminum from around the globe.

The U.S. is scheduled to start taxing more than $30 billion in Chinese imports in two weeks.

China has promised an immediate retaliation, a measure that would put the world’s two largest economies at odds.  

John Murphy, a U.S. Chamber of Commerce senior vice president, estimates that $75 billion in U.S. products could be subjected to new foreign tariffs by the end of July.

“The U.S. is abusing the tariff methods and starting trade wars all around the world.” said a spokesman for China’s Commerce Ministry.

“Clarity (is) still lacking about how far things will ultimately go between (the) U.S. and China and the potential ripple effect for world trade,” said financial analyst Mike van Dulken.

During his presidential campaign, Trump promised to apply tariffs because he said countries around the world had been exploiting the U.S.

The European stock market was bracing itself in the face of the new tariffs .  

In early Friday trading London’s FTSE 100 index of major blue-chip firms rose 0.2 percent to 7,571.78 points (compared with Thursday’s closing level.)

In the eurozone, Frankfurt’s DAX 30 was unchanged at 12,507.72, while the Paris CAC 40 gained almost 0.3 percent to 5,330.5 points.

But that could all change after the reality of the tariffs takes hold.

“We’ve never seen anything like this,” at least not since the Great Depression, said Syracuse University economist Mary Lovely.

A former White House trade advisor says Trump “has been so belligerent that it becomes almost impossible for democratically elected leaders – or even a non-democratic leader like (Chinese President) Xi Jinping – to appear to kowtow and give in.”  Phillip Levy, a senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, said, “The president has made it very hard for other countries to give him what he wants.”

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Turkey Joins Nations Placing New Tariffs on US Products

Turkey announced Thursday that it would impose tariffs on $1.8 billion worth of U.S. goods in retaliation for U.S. President Donald Trump’s tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

The World Trade Organization said the new Turkish tariffs would amount to $266.5 million on products including cars, coal, paper, rice and tobacco.

Economy Minister Nihat Zeybekci said in a statement that Turkey would not allow itself “to be wrongly blamed for America’s economic challenges.”

He continued, “We are part of the solution, not the problem.”

On Wednesday, the EU announced that it had compiled a list of U.S. products on which it would begin charging import duties of 25 percent, a move that could escalate into a full-blown trade war, especially if U.S. President Donald Trump follows through with his threat to impose tariffs on European cars.

“We did not want to be in this position. However, the unilateral and unjustified decision of the U.S. to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on the EU means that we are left with no other choice,” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said in a statement.

The commission, which manages the daily business of the EU, adopted a law that places duties on $3.2 billion worth of U.S. goods, including aluminum and steel products, agricultural products, bourbon and motorcycles.

Malmstrom said that the EU response was consistent with World Trade Organization rules and that the tariffs would be lifted if the U.S. rescinded its metal tariffs, which amount to $7.41 billion.

Trump slapped tariffs of 25 percent on steel and 10 percent on aluminum on the EU, Canada and Mexico, which went into effect at the beginning of June.

Canada said it would impose retaliatory tariffs on $12.5 billion worth of U.S. products on July 1.

Mexico imposed tariffs two weeks ago on a range of U.S. products, including steel, pork and bourbon.

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UN: 40M in US Live in Poverty

A report by the U.N. special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights finds 40 million people in the United States live in poverty, 18.5 million live in extreme poverty and more than 5 million live in conditions of absolute poverty. 

Special Rapporteur Philip Alston called the United States the most unequal society in the developed world. He said U.S. policies benefit the rich and exacerbate the plight of the poor.

He said the policies of President Donald Trump’s administration stigmatize the poor by insisting those receiving government benefits are capable of working and that benefits, such as food stamps, should be cut back significantly. He said the government’s suggestions that people on welfare are lazy and do not want to work misrepresent the facts.

“The statistics that are available show that the great majority of people who, for example, are on Medicaid are either working in full-time work — around half of them — or they are in school or they are giving full-time care to others,” Alston said.

He said 7 percent of people were not working.

Worst of the West

In his report, which will be delivered Friday to the U.N. Human Rights Council, Alston noted the United States had the highest rate of income inequality among Western countries, with the top 1 percent of the population owning more than 38 percent of total wealth. He said the Trump administration’s $1.5 trillion in tax cuts would overwhelmingly benefit the wealthy and would worsen the situation of the poor.

The U.N. investigator told VOA that at the completion of each of his country fact-finding missions, he issues what he calls an end-of mission statement. That, he said, gives some governments the opportunity to immediately respond.

“The U.S. chose not to do that, and since then there has not been any official response to either that end-of-mission statement or to the final report, which has now been out for a couple of weeks,” he said.

As is common practice, after Alston formally presents his report to the Human Rights Council, the concerned country has a right of reply. Though the United States has withdrawn as a member of the council, it still has the right to respond to the report as an observer country.

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India, Top Buyer of US Almonds, Hits Back With Higher Duties

India, the world’s biggest buyer of U.S. almonds, raised import duties on the commodity by 20 percent, a government order said, joining the European Union and China in retaliating against President Donald Trump’s tariff hikes on steel and aluminum.

New Delhi, incensed by Washington’s refusal to exempt it from the new tariffs, also imposed a 120 percent duty on the import of walnuts in the strongest action yet against the United States.

The move to increase tariffs from Aug. 4 will also cover a slew of other farm, steel and iron products.

It came a day after the European Union said it would begin charging 25 percent import duties on a range of U.S. products on Friday, in response to the new U.S. tariffs.

India is by far the largest buyer of U.S. almonds, purchasing over half of all U.S. almond shipments in 2017. A kilogram of shelled almonds will attract duty of as much as 120 rupees ($1.76) instead of the current 100 rupees, the Commerce Ministry said.

Last month, New Delhi sought an exemption from the new U.S. tariffs, saying its steel and aluminum exports were small in relation to other suppliers. But its request was ignored, prompting India to launch a complaint against the United States at the World Trade Organization.

“India’s tariff retaliation is within the discipline of trade tariffs of the World Trade Organization,” said steel secretary Aruna Sharma.

Trade differences between India and the United States have been rising since U.S. President Donald Trump took office. Bilateral trade rose to $115 billion in 2016, but the Trump administration wants to reduce its $31 billion deficit with India, and is pressing New Delhi to ease trade barriers.

Earlier this year, Trump called out India for its duties on Harley-Davidson motorbikes, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi agreed to cut the import duty to 50 percent from 75 percent for the high-end bikes.

But that has not satisfied Trump, who pointed to zero duties for Indian bikes sold in the United States and said he would push for a “reciprocal tax” against countries, including U.S. allies, that levy tariffs on American products.

In the tariff rates issued late on Wednesday, the commerce ministry named some varieties of almonds, apples, chickpeas, lentils, walnuts and artemia that would carry higher import taxes. Most of these are purchased from the United States.

Walnuts have gone from 100 percent duty to 120 percent, the government note said.

India also raised duties on some grades of iron and steel products. In May it had given a list of products to the WTO that it said could incur higher tariffs.

An official from the steel ministry said at the time that the new tariffs were intended to show displeasure at the U.S. action.

“It is an appropriate signal. I am hopeful that all of this (trade war) will die down. In my view this is not in the interest of the global economy,” said Rajiv Kumar, vice chairman of the Indian government’s policy thinktank Niti Aayog.

Rising trade tensions between the United States and some major economies have threatened to derail global growth.

Officials from India and the United States are expected to hold talks on June 26-27 to discuss trade issues, local daily Times of India reported on Thursday citing Press Trust of India.

The U.S. Commerce Department on Wednesday announced a preliminary finding that imports of large-diameter welded pipe from China, India, South Korea and Turkey were subsidized by those countries, and said it was imposing preliminary duties that could top 500 percent.

In a separate trade dispute, Trump threatened on Monday to hit $200 billion of Chinese imports with 10 percent tariffs if Beijing retaliates against his previous announcement to target $50 billion in imports. The United States has accused China of stealing U.S. intellectual property, a charge Beijing denies. ($1 = 68.1700 Indian rupees)

 

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For Tanzanian Farmers, Grain Harvest Is in the Bag

Maize farmers are preparing as the harvest season approaches in Tanzania’s Kondoa District.  The weather has been good and most farmers here expect bumper yields.

Amina Hussein, a mother of four in Mnenia village, is testing a new way to store her harvest.

 

“In the past, we used to store our produce in normal bags, we would buy them three times a year because we faced the risk of losing harvests to pest infestation,” Hussein said.  “But since the introduction of this new technology, using the hermetic storage bags, we are not incurring huge costs anymore to buy chemicals to preserve the maize.”

 

The bags keep grain dry and fresh, and keep bugs and mold out.

 

Amina, who is the chairperson of a local farmers’ association, says she used to spend precious cash on pesticides to preserve her maize.  The new bags cut that cost.

 

Grain Losses

 

About 85 percent of Tanzania’s population lives in rural areas and relies on agriculture for a living.  Small-hold farmers constitute the majority of the population.

 

Here, post-harvest losses are a major concern, especially for grains, which form the base for nutrition and income for Tanzania’s rural communities.

 

Tanzania’s Ministry of Agriculture estimates that small farmers lose between 15 percent and 40 percent of their harvests each year to mold, mildew, bugs, rats and other causes, says Eliabu Philemon Ndossi, a senior program officer at the ministry.

 

The U.N. Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that 1.3 billion tons of food go to waste globally every year.  That’s about a third of the food produced for human consumption around the world.

 

And post-harvest loss reduces the income of small-hold farmers by 15 percent.

 

Food Security

 

Researchers from the University of Zurich and their partners are looking to cut those losses.  Their project in Tanzania is looking at ways to help farmers keep more of their grain.

 

It’s a collaborative effort bringing together government agencies, businesses and international development organizations.

 

More than 1,000 small-scale farmers in two regions in central Tanzania are involved in the project, which in part uses air-tight and water-tight storage bags instead of normal plastic or cloth bags.

 

The study is conducted within a larger project that Swiss development agency Helvetas runs to help increase farm income.

 

But reducing losses is more than an issue of farmers’ income, says Rakesh Munankami, a project manager at Helvetas.

 

“If we can reduce post-harvest loss, there wouldn’t be any problem with the food security.  This study is important because we would like to see what’s the impact at the broader level, how does it affect the price volatility of the crop as well as how does it affect the food security of the smallholder farmers,” he said.

 

And the study has proven a success.  Initial findings show that improved on-farm storage sharply cut the number of food insecure households, said Michael Brander, one of the lead researchers from the University of Zurich.

 

“We are now one year into the study and the most astonishing finding so far is that we see that the number of people that go hungry has reduced by one third,” he said.  “That’s especially astonishing because the intervention has worked very fast.”

 

Munanakami says he thinks the results can be replicated elsewhere.  And the project’s partners hope that will encourage policy makers and aid organizations focus on preventing harvest losses.

 

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Lawmakers Grill Commerce Secretary Over Escalating Trade Battles

U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross faced tough questions during a Senate hearing Wednesday on the Trump administration’s tariff proposals and actions. Senators on both sides of the aisle criticized the administration’s rollout of proposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports. VOA’s Elizabeth Cherneff has more on the fallout from Washington.

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New Credit Rating Speaks of Vietnam’s Complicated Makeover

A decent rating from Fitch this month has Vietnam riding high on the small victory, despite some of the less favorable economic trends connected to this first-of-its-kind rating.

The state monopoly Vietnam Electricity, or EVN, clinched a “BB” score June 6 from Fitch Ratings, which until then had never officially assessed the credit of a non-financial company owned by the Hanoi government. That prompted a cross-section of officials in the southeast Asian country to gush about the promise in store for one of the world’s fastest-growing economies.

“This positive rating enables EVN to issue international bonds, diversify our financing sources, and reassure domestic and foreign institutional investors,” said Dinh Quang Tri, the acting CEO of EVN. “We are now on a stronger footing to deliver more reliable electricity to Vietnam.”

The ebullience, however, is tempered by two questions: Will this be enough for investors to trust EVN? And how much should government become involved in business?

Renewable energy

EVN underscores the mixed sentiments that analysts express about Vietnam, a communist country transitioning to capitalism. The fact that the government runs EVN contributed to Fitch’s confidence in its report card.

“We believe the company can secure adequate funding in light of its position as an entity closely linked to the sovereign,” it said in a media release.

Yet businesses want even more promises from the government. Vietnam has spent years courting investment in renewable power, for example, but with limited success. That is in part because businesses that generate wind, solar, and other alternative energy sources can sell it only to EVN, and they are afraid of losing money if the company does not buy their electricity.

For renewables, “there is no provision for any form of government guarantee, assurance, or support to enhance the creditworthiness of EVN as the sole off-taker/purchaser,” corporate law firm Baker McKenzie said in a September report.

State vs. free market

Some would like to see more government involvement in general, especially to bail out companies in trouble. Others would like to see less involvement, as evidenced in the push for Vietnam to privatize further by selling stakes in its many state-owned enterprises. The country has not settled on a balance between the free market and the government.

Hanoi used to give iron-clad pledges that it would pay up in case of default at one of its state firms or public works projects. The government is doing that less often now because it is moving away from a centrally-planned economy, as well as reducing its sovereign debt.

Public anxiety mounted in recent years as Vietnam approached its debt ceiling of 65 percent of gross domestic product, though the country has made progress in reining in the debt.

That means EVN must tread lightly. Now that the power company has a Fitch Rating, it is eyeing international bonds to borrow money from investors around the world.

Going through this financing process is “helping EVN benefit from the discipline that comes with access to capital markets,” said Jordan Schwartz, who is the director of the World Bank group overseeing infrastructure, guarantees, and public-private partnerships.

The World Bank gave EVN funds and technical assistance to prepare for the Fitch assessment. Its credit rating shows how tightly EVN’s fate correlates with that of the government. Electricity prices, for example, will have to increase for the utility to make profits and improve its rating. Big increases, however, require approval from Hanoi, which also wants to keep power affordable for citizens.

The correlation is even blunter in Fitch’s analysis. The overall credit rating for Vietnam’s government itself also is BB. If that improves, so could the score for EVN, Fitch said, “provided EVN’s linkages with the state do not deteriorate significantly.”

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European Business Lobby Presses China to Stop Dragging Feet on Reform

As the United States and China teeter on the brink of an all out trade war and tit-for-tat tariffs loom, a European businesses lobby is urging Beijing to stop dragging its feet on reforms and using unfair trade policies to pamper Chinese companies.

 

Each year, foreign trade groups in China roll out a laundry list of concerns about market access, regulatory hurdles and other policies that tilt the playing field in the world’s second largest economy.

 

This year, for the first time ever, the European Chamber of Commerce’s annual survey of the business climate found that 61 percent of its 532 company members saw their Chinese counterparts as equally or more innovative.

Increased spending on research and development, targeted acquisitions of foreign high-tech firms and growing demand for innovative products from consumers were helping driving that shift, the chamber said.

 

The high response is significant. Policies linked to innovation and competition are a key part of the intensifying US — China trade debate and concerns of foreign companies operating here.

 

European Chamber President Mats Harborn said that as Chinese companies become stronger and more competitive, it is time for Beijing to “remove the training wheels.”

 

“It’s time for China to lift or reduce the pampering of its own enterprises and expose them to even more open and fair competition for them to develop into the champions that China wants them to be,” Harborn said.

 

Currently, Chinese companies account for 115 of the Fortune 500 list of global enterprises. The Chinese government claims that of the world’s 260 “unicorns” — start up companies valued at more than a billion dollars — more than 160 are from China.

Since Chinese President Xi Jinping delivered an address at the World Economic Forum in Davos early last year, China has repeatedly pledged to further open up the country’s economy.

 

According to the group’s survey of its members 52 % said that the government’s promises of opening up had yet to be realized. And looking forward, 46 percent said they thought the number of regulatory obstacles would increase over the next five years.

 

Harborn said that time is running out for China and 2018 has to be the year that it delivers on its promises.

 

“Dragging the feet on delivering on promises that have been made in China will cause reactions around the world,” Harborn said.

 

The United States response to that has led to reactions such as the $50 billion, and more recently $200 billion, in possible tariffs that Washington could levy on Chinese goods.

 

“We don’t agree with that action but it is the result of what we have warned about earlier,” he said.

Washington and European companies alike have long voiced concern about trade policies in China that protect domestic companies and State Owned Enterprises through subsidies, regulatory barriers and unequal treatment.

 

The Trump administration has alleged that Beijing is stealing American intellectual property and forcing technology transfers. Beijing denies that is the case.

 

Still, the European chamber’s survey found that about one in five of its companies “felt compelled to hand over technology in exchange for market access,” despite Chinese government assurances to the contrary.

 

According to the survey, 19 percent said they felt compelled to transfer technology.

Harborn said that while the percentage may seem small, the value it represents is much larger. Numbers were even higher among companies in the aerospace and aviation sector (36 percent), civil engineering and construction (33 percent) and automakers (27 percent).

 

“And no foreign company going to Europe has to even consider the issue of giving up technology for market access,” Harborn said.

 

Reciprocal treatment is a key concern from companies in China, regardless of whether they are from Europe and America. It is also a key aim of Washington’s trade dispute with Beijing and effort to make trade fairer.

 

But as the rhetoric in the U.S.-China trade dispute has heated up, some analysts argue that the focus has shifted too heavily to reciprocal and damaging tariffs. Actions that risk hurting not only the United States and China, but the global economy as well.

 

Harborn said confrontation through tariffs is not the most efficient way to get reforms and opening up that companies have been asking China to deliver.

 

“We are afraid that when you are exerting pressure this way [through threats of tariffs] that China keeps its aces up its sleeve and is presenting what is needed to defuse the tension at the time and is not addressing the fundamental and broader issues,” Harborn said.

 

Besides, he add, reforms are not only important for foreign companies but China’s own economic development as well.

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Recycling Rubbish into Revenue, Plan Brings Hope to Women in Jordan

Sameera Al Salam folds a discarded piece of newspaper into a long strip then loops it round her finger to form a tight circle, the first stage of making the upcycled handbags, trays and bowls the Syrian refugee hopes will help her earn a living.

Al Salam, 55, was a hairdresser with a passion for “art and making things” before she fled her war-torn homeland for Irbid in northern Jordan with her family in 2012.

Now she has two teenagers and a husband left paralyzed by a stroke to support in a country where she has no automatic legal right to work, and they are three months behind on their rent.

“We were living a really happy life. I had a garden where I grew everything,” Al Salam told the Thomson Reuters Foundation. “We had to leave because of the airstrikes. We were always trying to put things in front of the door to protect the children. Whenever I remember, it breaks my heart.”

Like most of the more than 655,000 Syrian refugees living in Jordan — and many Jordanians — poverty, debt and unemployment dominate the family’s existence.

Al Salam hopes her involvement in a new rubbish collection and recycling plan that aims to alleviate the poverty of both refugees and locals and bring the two communities closer will help turn things around.

The project, managed by charity Action Against Hunger, employs 1,200 people to collect and sort waste from the streets and provides temporary work permits to refugees who take part.

Nearly half the participants are female in a country where women can face cultural and family obstacles to employment, including a culture of shame around going out to work.

One in three Syrian refugee households in Jordan is headed by women and more and more are now seeking jobs in an already crowded market.

More than 80 percent of the Syrian refugees in Jordan live below the poverty line, according to Care International.

Awsaf Qaddah, a 39-year-old Syrian widow, said working as a rubbish collector initially felt like “a kind of shame,” but she now feels only pride.

“The job took me out of this atmosphere I was living in at home. Women can and should go out and work, especially with the circumstances we’re facing,” she said. “I have no husband or father or brother to help — I’m proud to do it.”

Fellow worker Berwen Misterihi, who is Jordanian, was forced to earn after her husband left her and their four children.

“Women and men would make comments about me picking up waste,” she said.

“I said to one man, ‘I’d rather work than come to you for the money’ and he apologized.”

‘Like Siblings’

The project workers were given 50-day contracts paying 12 Jordanian Dinar ($16.90) a day, plus training and social security provisions. Some of the waste was sold to scrap dealers for extra cash.

Al Salam was among a group of women who started an upcycling project, turning the waste paper and plastic they collected into objects to sell.

Action Against Hunger, which has managed the waste project since 2017 with German government funding, is now setting up a second phase focusing on equipping cooperatives and workers to continue waste processing and upcycling unaided.

“First there was a focus on breaking the culture of shame for women. Then we wanted ideas of how they could benefit from waste,” said Sajeda Saqallah, programme manager with Action Against Hunger. “Upcycling is a new concept here, so we took them to Amman to learn about it.”

Al Salam said her husband did not object to her taking part in the project. She now hopes she will get training on marketing and trademarking and win one of a number of new contracts Action Against Hunger is providing to carry on upcycling for wages.

The women in her upcycling group meet regularly and share ideas and news in a WhatsApp group.

At a workshop filled with their creations – from handbags to light shades to side tables, all made from recycled newspaper and cardboard – Sahira Zoubi, a Syrian refugee and mother of five excitedly points to the gold handbag she made.

Zoubi, who has not seen her husband since the Syrian army captured him in 2012, has made close friends through the project from both Syria and Jordan who she says are “like siblings.”

“Doing this project is so joyful because you come here and forget about your problems,” she said.

Al Salam breaks down as she tells how the project has allowed her to overcome her fears of being a refugee in a strange country.

“I never really mixed with people before this. I was afraid to go outside, I wasn’t involved in the community,” she said. “I was from a different country. I didn’t know what people were going to do to me or what they would say. Now I like to mingle.”

($1 = 0.7100 Jordanian dinars)

Travel for this story was covered by Action Against Hunger.

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China Calls Trump Threat of More Tariffs ‘Blackmail’

China calls President Donald Trump’s threat to slap more tariffs on Chinese exports to the U.S. “extreme pressure and blackmail” and threatens to retaliate.

Beijing reacted Tuesday to Trump’s plan to impose tariffs on another $200 billion of Chinese goods “if China refuses to change its practices.”

“China apparently has no intention of changing its unfair practices related to the acquisition of American intellectual property and technology,” a presidential statement said late Monday. “Rather than altering those practices, it is now threatening United States companies, workers, and farmers who have done nothing wrong.”

The president has ordered Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer to identify a list of $200 billion in additional Chinese goods subject to a 10 percent tariff — a move that would bring on another round of Chinese penalties on American products.

Trump has already ordered 25 percent tariffs on $50 billion in Chinese products. Those penalties are scheduled to take effect next month and will likely be followed by Chinese countermeasures.

The U.S. has long accused China of stealing U.S. technology secrets, requiring U.S. firms to share intellectual property as a condition for doing business in joint ventures in China. China denies such theft and accuses Washington of “deviating from the consensus reached by both parties.”

The Director of White House National Trade Council, Peter Navarro, told reporters Tuesday the White House has given China every opportunity to change its “aggressive behavior.”

Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping held a summit last year at Trump’s Mar-a-Lago resort. But that meeting and several rounds of trade talks between high-level officials in the past year have not yielded any progress.

“It is important to note here that the actions President Trump has taken are purely defensive in nature. They are designed to defend the crown jewels of American technology from China’s aggressive behavior,” Navarro contended. 

U.S. stock market tumbled on Tuesday following the latest salvos between Washington and Beijing. The Dow Jones Industrial Average lost more than 1.1 percent at the close of trading and other major indexes posted losses as well. 

But Navarro dismissed concerns about how the administration’s trade policy would affect the financial markets and global economy, saying it will have only a “relatively small effect.” He argued the U.S. steps will ultimately benefit the country and global trading system. 

Navarro did not reveal plans for further trade talks between Washington and Beijing, but added, “our phone lines are open, they have always been open.”

Trump has said he has an excellent relationship with Chinese President Xi Jinping, but has also said “the United States will no longer be taken advantage of on trade by China and other countries in the world.”

He has imposed tariffs on aluminum and steel imports from Canada, Mexico, and the European Union and is feuding over trade with some of the United States’ closest allies.

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