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Trump Clarifies on Trade Regrets: Tariffs Should Be Higher

Josh Wingrove and Jennifer Jacobs

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Donald Trump acknowledged having second thoughts on escalating the trade war with China -- only for his top spokeswoman to later say he meant he regretted not raising tariffs even more.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham now says the media misinterpreted Trump’s initial remarks. Trump doesn’t regret starting a trade war but he does have second thoughts on whether he should have hit the Chinese even harder.

“The president was asked if he had ‘any second thought on escalating the trade war with China.’ His answer has been greatly misinterpreted. President Trump responded in the affirmative - because he regrets not raising the tariffs higher,” Grisham said in a statement to reporters.

The initial remark drew worldwide headlines because Trump is rarely one for second-guessing himself, and instead goes bigger on his ideas in the face of criticism. Grisham’s explanation is more in the line with the Trump that the Group of Seven nations know, and who often drives them to distraction.

The remarks came as Trump was meeting with U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Sunday at the Group of Seven summit. He was asked whether he had “any second thoughts on escalating the trade war” with China, after he announced higher tariffs late Friday.

“Yeah, sure, why not?” Trump replied. Reporters asked again whether he had second thoughts. “Might as well, might as well,” he replied, before reporters asked again. “I have second thoughts about everything,” he said.

The breezy acknowledgment from the president is the latest in the trade fight between the two largest economies, who continue to ratchet up pressure as warning signs flash on the risk of a global recession.

Trump on Friday announced he would hike existing tariffs, applied to about $250 billion in Chinese goods, to 30 percent from 25 percent as of Oct. 1. He also said a new round of tariffs on $300 billion in goods will be taxed at 15 percent, up from 10 percent. The first batch of those tariffs is set to kick in on Sept 1.

Trump’s move was in response to China’s decision to impose retaliatory tariffs on another $75 billion of U.S. goods, including levies on soybeans, pork, cotton and crude oil. Beijing’s move takes aim at the heart of Trump’s political support -- factories and farms across the Midwest and South.

Whether Trump regrets ratcheting up the trade war or not ratcheting it up enough, China is preparing for relations to get much worse, said Hu Xijin, editor-in-chief of the state-run Global Times newspaper.

“Regardless of his specific expression each time, we’re seriously making preparations for scenario in which China-U.S. trade relations deteriorate further, even much worse than now,” he wrote on Twitter after Trump’s remarks.

Trump has seen his poll numbers sag ahead of his 2020 re-election bid, as consumers sour on his aggressive trade stance against China. Trump has bet his re-election chances on a strong economy, and with fears of recession growing among some economists, has insisted fears of an economic slowdown are overblown.

Trump was also asked whether allied nations at the summit in Biarritz, France were pressing him to give up on the trade war. “No, not at all, I haven’t heard that at all,” he replied.

But later, Johnson nudged him to do just that. “Just to register the faint, sheep-like note of our view on the trade war, we’re in favor of trade peace on the whole, and dialing it down a beat,” Johnson said.

(Updates with details of Chinese tariffs in ninth paragraph.)

To contact the reporters on this story: Josh Wingrove in Biarritz, France at jwingrove4@bloomberg.net;Jennifer Jacobs in Biarritz, France at jjacobs68@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Craig Gordon at cgordon39@bloomberg.net, Flavia Krause-Jackson

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