U.S., German finance chiefs seek to defuse trade tensions
March 17, 2017 1:00 AM
Frank Augstein/Associated Press
U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin walks past a police officer at Downing Street to meet Britain's Chancellor Philip Hammond in London on Thursday.
By David Rising and David McHugh / Associated Press
BERLIN — The U.S. and German finance chiefs say they’re ready to cooperate and avoid “trade wars,” playing down in their first meeting the tensions that have grown globally over commerce since the new U.S. administration came to power.
During a visit to Berlin before a wider meeting with the finance chiefs of the Group of 20 economic powers, Steve Mnuchin said Thursday that “it is not our desire to get into trade wars.”
But he said, without providing specifics, that President Donald Trump wants to review some international trade deals to make them fairer for American workers.
“Our objective is getting more balanced trade agreements,” he told reporters while sitting by Germany’s Wolfgang Schaeuble.
The German had earlier in the day warned against protectionism and nationalism and conceded that he and Mr. Mnuchin did not agree on all points.
A Trump adviser had earlier this year accused Germany of benefiting from a weak euro that boosts its exports. Germany rejects the charge, saying it sells more abroad because its companies make competitive products and that it can’t do much to influence the euro’s exchange rate since eurozone monetary policy is set by the European Central Bank.
Mr. Schaeuble and Mr. Mnuchin sought to defuse any tensions on the issue. “It’s not about giving lectures to each other,” Mr. Schaeuble said.
Mr. Trump himself has accused China of currency manipulation, and while walking back from the adviser’s comments about the euro, Mr. Mnuchin suggested that didn’t mean the entire issue was off the table.
“The euro is a currency that is used by many countries and is impacted by many aspects, so it is a different situation than when you have a single currency controlled by a single country,” he said.
Mr. Mnuchin’s views are being scrutinized to signs of how hard he might be in implementing Mr. Trump’s message that the U.S. needs a tougher approach to trade that would put American workers and companies first. Mr. Trump has already pulled the U.S. out of a proposed trade deal with Pacific Rim countries and has started the process to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.
Mr. Trump has vowed to get tough on trade partners like China, Mexico and Germany. Now — as 19 countries worth most of the global economy, plus the EU, meet Friday and Saturday in southern Germany — Mr. Mnuchin will get his first opportunity to confront them all in one room.
Mr. Mnuchin also appeared to want to ease concerns that the U.S. might act to limit the rise of the dollar, since a stronger currency can hurt exporters. Purposefully weakening — or “manipulating” — a currency has been rejected by the G-20 collectively.
Mr. Mnuchin said Thursday that in the longer term, “the strengthening of the dollar is a good thing” as it shows confidence in the U.S. economy and currency.