US Commerce Department Reports $621 Billion Trade Deficit, Highest in 10 Years

Senior White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow speaks during a briefing at the White House in Washington

But that doesn't mean the trade war ends.

China must reject United States demands to keep the yuan stable against the greenback as part of a trade deal, though it can commit to not maintain it at an artificially low level, former People's Bank of China adviser Yu Yongding wrote in an opinion piece last week. A new trade accord that would provide Trump with a much-needed win after the collapse of his summit with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The strength of the USA dollar has also not been helpful to the administration's aims, as it makes imports relatively cheaper while increasing the price of US products to the rest of the world. The tariff would remain "at 10 percent until further notice".

President Donald Trump first imposed tariffs on China in January 2018, and the Chinese government retaliated two and a half months later with tariffs on about $3 billion worth of US goods, including a tariff on soybeans that disproportionately affected farmers. He put $250 billion in tariffs on Chinese goods last September in an attempt to alter the balance of trade with China and increase leverage over the world's second-largest economy at the negotiating table.

That's the bad news for the Trump administration and trade hawks. The greater reliance on Chinese imports likely reflects an acceleration in economic growth a year ago from Trump's debt-funded tax cuts, which were created to increase spending by consumers and businesses.

Stock markets rose Monday on hope for a trade deal between China and the United States after reports said the two sides were close to a breakthrough.

Still, the USA president has repeatedly delayed implementing higher duties on goods to give the two sides more time to strike a broad deal.

Speaking at a separate briefing in Beijing, a Chinese government official said both countries were working on the next steps, though he gave no details.

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"I've supported the view that we should try to focus the [current] negotiations on opening up more Chinese markets", Dollar said.

Eliot Engel D-N.Y., speaks during the House Foreign Affairs subcommittee hearing on Venezuela at Capitol Hill in Washington, Feb. 13, 2019. We are right now taking in $billions in Tariffs. They also point to his renegotiation of Nafta as something that will help reduce the USA trade deficit in the long run.

The focus of the agreement is, unsurprisingly, on the bilateral trade balance, which the WSJ calls "a tactic created to appeal to President Trump, who campaigned on closing the bilateral trade deficit with China".

Still, the biggest takeaway from the new trade data is not that the tariffs predictably failed to do what Trump thought they would; it's that the USA economy is powered by the individual decisions of millions of people and businesses, and that entity is far too complex and powerful to be controlled by the White House.

In a statement on Saturday, China said it welcomed the delay.

Trump's deal will most definitely be scrutinized by Democrats and more hawkish members of his own party who have been outspoken about the need for the president to hold a tough line in the talks with Beijing. Talks could still collapse if a deal cannot be reached on enforcement of these "structural" issues.

The NYT says the deal would "largely require Beijing to make big purchases of American agricultural and energy goods and to lower some barriers that prevent American companies from operating in China". China's yuan was holding around eight-month highs.

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