President Donald Trump's trade chief on Monday said China represents an "unprecedented" threat to the world trading system, saying its state-driven economic system poses a "substantially more difficult" challenge than in the past.
"The sheer scale of their coordinated effort to develop their economy, to subsidize, to create national champions, to force technology transfers, and to distort markets in China and throughout the world is a threat to the world trading system that is unprecedented," U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington think tank.
Mr. Lighthizer, in one of his first lengthy public appearances outside of Capitol Hill, put China at the center of the Trump administration's concern that the global trading system isn't serving American workers and farmers well. The focus on Beijing echoes Mr. Trump's 2016 campaign message and illustrates the administration's emphasis on trade deficits. China sent $347 billion more in goods to the U.S. than the U.S. exported there in 2016.
Mr. Lighthizer mentioned only the Beijing government by name in his prepared remarks and didn't refer in the speech to accelerated talks to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
"We're moving at warp speed but we don't know whether we're getting to a conclusion," Mr. Lighthizer said in answer to a question about Nafta. "We're running very quickly somewhere," he said. In contrast, he expressed optimism that future trade talks with the U.K. will be successful.
The Trump administration has sought to put heavy pressure on Mexico and Canada, which haven't welcomed some U.S. Nafta ideas, including a possible provision to have Nafta "sunset" every five years if it isn't renewed. Mr. Lighthizer declined to comment on the sunset idea and wouldn't discuss Nafta provisions.
On China, Mr. Lighthizer also avoided laying out a specific plan. So far, the Trump administration has opened a variety of investigations under U.S. law that could end in tariffs on Chinese goods, but it has delayed imposing major duties, citing continuing talks with Beijing.
Mr. Trump, along with Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other top advisers, have defended the use of tariffs on imports from other countries as a way to pressure them on trade disagreements.
"We must use all the instruments we have to make it expensive to engage in noneconomic behavior and to convince our trading partners to treat our workers, farmers and ranchers fairly," Mr. Lighthizer said Monday.
Write to William Mauldin at firstname.lastname@example.org
(END) Dow Jones Newswires
September 18, 2017 14:59 ET (18:59 GMT)