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White House Says There’s a “Good Possibility” a Deal Can Be Reached on Tariffs. Maybe.

The first White House press briefing since late October shed little light on President Trump’s plans for tariffs on China.

From one day to the next, the president has either emphasized the possibility of making a deal with China or ramped up his threats to slap more tariffs on the country because he’s yet unpleased with its concessions thus far. For now, it seems Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will discuss the potential for expanded and/or additional tariffs over dinner Saturday night.

At the press briefing Tuesday, White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow, said the Trump administration will use the upcoming G20 Summit in Buenos Aires to discuss overall economic measures, but also to hash out its aims for “free, fair and reciprocal trade, and trade reform.”

The refrain is a popular one for Trump, and according to Kudlow, that’s because free, fair and reciprocal trade hasn’t happened with China for “several decades.”

What the president wants, according to Kudlow, is “a world, ideally, of zero tariffs, zero non-tariff barriers and zero subsidies,” and that’s something Trump is expected to reiterate during the meeting with Xi on the sidelines of the G20.

To get there, however, it may take more tariffs.

While Trump has said there’s a “good possibility that a deal can be made,” and that he’s open to that, Kudlow said, key caveats include solving issues of intellectual property, forced technology transfer and “significant tariff and non-tariff barriers” first.

“Now, whether they get through all that remains to be seen, but that’s his point of view,” Kudlow said.

If Trump and Xi can’t settle on those call-outs, the current 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods could carry forward to their Jan. 1 increase, and more tariffs could come right in line with that if the aforementioned conditions aren’t “met and dealt with,” according to Kudlow.

“[Trump is] perfectly happy to stand on his tariff policies, which are 10 percent last $200 billion, scheduled to go to 25 percent—that’s not a certainty but that’s the schedule—and he has said as recently as yesterday, the day before, if need be if things don’t work out in this U.S.-China summit meeting, he will invoke another $267-some-odd billion in tariffs,” Kudlow said. “It may not be the first choice, but that is his view.”

Taking care not to “presuppose anything” Kudlow said Trump intends to make up his mind about the tariffs following the meeting with Xi. What he did note, however, was that “Our economy is in very good shape right now. And when you multiply through whatever numbers you want to use, $250 billion, or tack on another tranche—which may or may not happen—at a 10 percent tariff rate or more, it’s really just a fraction of our economy. It’s just a fraction of our economy. I’m not suggesting there aren’t winners and losers in that game, it’s a complicated game. But on the other hand, I think we are in far better shape to weather this than the Chinese are.”

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