Warren Buffett, a legendary investor in both the U.S. and China, was inevitably asked about the recent trade tension between Washington and Beijing at Saturday’s Berkshire Hathaway (BRK-A, BRK-B) annual shareholder meeting.
Buffett, like many economists, doesn’t necessarily see the trade deficit as a bad thing. “When you think about it, it’s really not the worst thing in the world to have somebody send you a lot of goods that you want and hand them pieces of paper,” Buffett said. “The balancing item is if you have a surplus or a deficit in your trade, you’re going to have a surplus of investments.”
‘It’s a win-win situation’
In the 1970s, U.S. exports and imports both contributed to about 5% of the GDP. Now the imports account for about 15%, with exports accounting for about 12%. The gap has caused a trade deficit, especially with major exporters like China. President Donald Trump has repeatedly complained about the deficit, seeing it as a result of bad policy from previous administrations. The Trump administration has asked China to reduce its trade deficit with the U.S. by $200 billion by the end of 2020.
In an earlier interview with Yahoo Finance, Buffett said the U.S. needs an “Educator-in-Chief” as president, to explain to people why free trade is good for the country. The Berkshire Hathaway chairman and CEO says he thinks China and the U.S. have done remarkably well with the trade.
“The United States and China are going to be the two super-powers of the world … for a long, long, long time. We have a lot of common interests … There will be times when there will be tensions. But it is a win-win situation basically when the world trades in China.”
Buffett added, later on: “The only problem gets to be when one side or the other may want to win a little bit too much, and then you have a certain amount of tension.”
‘I think we’re getting along fine’
Charlie Munger, Warren Buffett’s longtime business partner, and right-hand-man, believes China’s tradition of having a high savings rate among households plays a role in the trade gap. China’s savings rate, as a percentage of GDP, is over 50%, while the U.S. rate is less than 20%. Munger was behind Berkshire Hathaway’s investment in BYD, a Chinese battery and electric car maker.
“Of course a country [like China] that was mired in poverty for a long long time and assimilates the advanced technology of the world and has a big savings rate, is going to advance faster than some very mature country like Britain or the United States,” Munger said. “But I think we’re getting along fine and I’m very optimistic that both nations will be smart enough to realize that the last thing they should do is have any ill will for the other.”
Krystal Hu covers technology and economy for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.