As stocks slide, White House downplays ‘trade war’ fears

The White House on Wednesday looked to downplay renewed fears of a potential trade war with China after stocks were jolted by Beijing’s announcement overnight of $50 billion in proposed retaliatory tariffs against the U.S.

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“There’s no trade war here,” National Economic Council director Larry Kudlow said in an interview with Fox Business. “What you’ve got the early stages of a process that will include tariffs, comments on the tariffs, then ultimate decisions and negotiations.”

Kudlow made the comments after the stock market dropped more than 200 points upon its opening, at least in part a reaction to the tit-for-tat announcement by China of its plan to institute $50 billion in tariffs against U.S. agricultural and aviation sectors.

“I understand the stock market’s anxiety,” Kudlow said. “I get that. But on the other hand, don’t overreact.”

Earlier in the morning, President Donald Trump doubled down on his recent announcements to slap tariffs on China’s steel, aluminum and technology sectors, saying the current U.S. trade deficit dwarfs any losses that would come from the current trade spat.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross later echoed the president’s sentiment in an appearance on CNBC, describing China’s $50 billion in proposed tariffs as “relatively proportionate” to the tariffs already announced by the administration and “hardly a life-threatening activity” in terms of potential impact on the overall economy.

“This $50 billion that they’re talking about amounts to about three-tenths of a percent of our GDP,” Ross said. “I’m frankly a little surprised that Wall Street was so surprised by it. This has been telegraphed for days and weeks.”

Kudlow went as far to suggest that there remains flexibility on both sides regarding whether the tariffs will actually take effect, depending on the result of ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and China.

“I doubt if there would be any concrete actions for several months. We will see how that plays out,” Kudlow said. “Nothing concrete has actually happened.”