Gary Cohn on US-China trade talks: Trump is 'desperate' for resolution

Former top White House economic adviser Gary Cohn said Thursday that the Trump administration is “desperate” to reach a resolution on its lengthy trade conflict with China.

Cohn, who left the administration last May after a dispute over tariffs imposed by President Trump, argued during an appearance on the “Freakonomics” podcast that Trump is counting on a resolution to boost the stock market. The market experienced a boom in the early months of Trump’s presidency, only to recede amid economic tensions with China, Europe and other nations.

“The president needs a win,” Cohn said. “The only big open issue right now that he could claim as a big win that he’d hope would have a big impact on the stock market would be a Chinese resolution. Getting the trade deficit down I will never say is easy, but of the issues on the table, that’s relatively easier.”

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer told the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday that talks on a trade deal were making progress, expressing a hope that “we are in the final weeks of an agreement.” However, Trump indicated this week that he is in “no rush” to reach an agreement and would not sign anything that did not meet U.S. demands, such as intellectual property protections.

A former president at Goldman Sachs, Cohn said it will be difficult for Trump to extract concessions from China on many key trade issues.

“Getting the intellectual property, the forced technology transfer and the market access – much more difficult,” Cohn said. “I think market access, the Chinese will give because they’ve been close to giving it for a while. But how are we going to stop the Chinese from stealing intellectual property or not paying for it? What is the enforcement mechanism and what are the punitive damages if they don’t stop?”

Cohn also discussed the circumstances behind his White House exit, noting that he felt as though communication had broken down between himself and other top advisers, including Peter Navarro and Wilbur Ross. Cohn staunchly opposed the implementation of punitive tariffs.

“I was losing the war on tariffs every day with the president. I knew I wasn’t convincing him I was right. I was not going to take a 74-year-old man who’s believed something since he was 30 and convince him that I was right. Believe me, I tried,” Cohn said.

Cohn also defended elements of Trump’s economic policy, especially the administration’s passage of a massive tax reform bill.


“You have to give him credit. We continue to have a pretty robust market, a pretty robust economy. There’s a couple things going on in the U.S. that don’t really get the attention they deserve,” he added.