Cabinet Room

11:07 A.M. EDT

THE PRESIDENT:  So this is a group I like very much.  We’re here to discuss agriculture — very important.  And these are great people, great Americans, great patriots.  And they’ve been treated very badly for a long time.  And if you look at the farmer, it’s been, unfortunately, over a 12-year period, trending downward.  Very much trending downward.  So we’re changing things with respect to trade and trade with other countries.

A lot of times, the farmers sort of — they know what they have.  But it’ll be very good when we get it all finished.  It’ll be great.  People are a little bit concerned going into that wild blue yonder, or, in our case, the wild red yonder.  (Laughter.)  But I will say that the farmers are going to be — they’re going to do fantastically well.

But they have been trending downward for a long period of time, and we’re not going to have that.  A lot of it is because of bad trade deals.

So I’m pleased to be joined by several of our nation’s governors — very distinguished governors — and members of Congress to talk about trade and agriculture.

As you know, the recent investigation led by U.S. Trade Representative Bob Lighthizer — who’s with us today also — identified a pattern of chronic Chinese trading abuses, including theft of intellectual property and trade secrets, and forced technology transfers, which has cost this country hundreds of billions of dollars, and also, the targeting of American technology.  It’s cost us untold hundreds of billions of dollars over the years.

Larry Kudlow is here and he’s shaking his head, approvingly — meaning, of what I’m saying.

KUDLOW:  Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  But disapprovingly of what they’ve done.

KUDLOW:  Yes, sir.

THE PRESIDENT:  As you are all aware, China has consistently treated the United States agriculture unfairly.  I was very proud of something I did at Mar-a-Lago, in Florida.  I had President Xi, who’s a friend of mine, who’s a very, very good man.  And I don’t blame China; I blame our representatives that — our people over the past, our Presidents and negotiators and trade representatives — that they allowed this to happen.

But during a very brief conversation, I said, “President, the United States, we want to sell beef again to China.”  Now, they hadn’t sold it in, what, 14 years or something.  And he looked at me and he said, “Say it again.”  I said, “We want to sell beef” — that’s a big industry — “in China.”  And he said, “We will sell beef in China.”  And we did other things too.  But the one that really is the most interesting for the people at this table is beef.

And I think, Governor, that made a big impact, and they’re selling a lot of beef in China that hadn’t been — for 14, 15 years, they were not allowed to sell beef in China.

So we have the kind of a relationship that, I think, is going to be very aggressively sustained.  Yesterday, as you know, President Xi made a very good speech, and he said he’s going to open up China.  He’s going to open it up, take down a lot of the trade barriers — maybe all of them — but take down a lot of trade barriers.

And he’s going to get rid of a lot of the taxes or tariffs that they charge.  Because, right now, if you have — and I use this example because it’s so easy — if we sell a car into China, number one, they won’t take the car; and number two, if they did take the car, it’s 25 percent tariff.  Whereas we have no barrier, and when they sell a car into us, it’s 2.5 percent.  So they have barriers, but when they don’t have barriers, it’s 25 percent versus 2.5 percent.  That’s not a good way to make money.  Chuck will tell you that.  So we’re straightening that out.

We want to be reciprocal.  So if they charge 25, we charge 25.  If they charge 2.5, we charge 2.5.  And maybe what happens is we both charge nothing, because I know we’d all like that.  I think Ben would like that better than anybody, okay?  That’s simpler than 25.  Let’s save all the transfer of funds, right?

SENATOR SASSE:  We need more trade.

THE PRESIDENT:  So that’s what we want.  We want more trade.  We want no barriers.  But the only way you can knock it down, you can’t just go in — for 25 years, Presidents have been trying to negotiate and they’ve been very unsuccessful, because they’d meet and they’d say, “Can we talk?”  And the Chinese would say, “Yes, we can.”  And that’s what they do — they talk for four years, then they’ll talk for another four years, and that would be the end of that.  Nothing would happen.  So nothing would happen.  So we’re doing a job there.

NAFTA — we’re renegotiating NAFTA.  It’s coming along great.  I have no time.  You know, I keep reading from the “fake news” media that we’re pushing it.  I’m not pushing it; I don’t care.  Oh, you’re laughing.  That’s good, Chuck.  See, Fox can smile because — (laughter) — you know, you do a very beautiful job.

But I keep hearing how we’re pushing NAFTA, we want it done.  There’s no timeline.  There’s no timeline.  Now, in the meantime, nobody is moving into Mexico.  Because as long as NAFTA is in flux, no company is going to spend a billion dollars to build an automobile plant.

So I say this — I’ve told it to the Mexicans:  We can negotiate forever.  Because as long as we have this negotiation going, nobody is going to build billion-dollar plants in Mexico, which is what they’ve been doing a lot.  They have taken our auto industry by the throat.  And so many jobs have been lost, so many massive plants have been built in Mexico.  Top-of-the-line stuff.  But it’s not happening now, and they’re coming back.  Chrysler has moved back; a lot of them have moved back.

And the same thing with agriculture, which is going to be our predominant discussion today.  So agriculture is okay with NAFTA.  Not great.  We’re going to make it great.  We’re going to make it great.  And we’re getting pretty close to a deal.  It could be three or four weeks.  It could be two months; it could be five months.  I don’t care.  In fact, if everybody in this room closed their ears, I’d say I’d rather terminate NAFTA and make a brand new deal, but I’m not going to do that because I want everyone to be happy in this room, okay?  We’ll see how it goes.

But we’re going to make a fair NAFTA deal, much better than it is right now.  NAFTA has cost this country hundreds of billions of dollars.  It has been a disaster.  We’ve lost 50,000 factories, millions of jobs.  NAFTA has been a disaster.

So we’re going to either come up with a great NAFTA deal, and a fair one for this country, or we’re going to just do something else.  And agriculture will be taken care of 100 percent.

So we’re going to have a discussion today and we’re going to talk about agriculture as it relates to trade, primarily.  Again, we’re doing really well with China.  I think we’re having some great discussions, and we’ll see what happens.  We put a $50 billion tariff on, and then we put $100 billion tariff on.  And, you know, at a certain point, they run out of bullets.

Remember what I said: When you’re $500 billion down, you can’t lose a trade war.  And I won’t call it a trade war because it’s really a trade negotiation.  But nobody ever negotiated from our side.  Nobody ever did anything.  All they did was talk.  And in the meantime, we helped rebuild China because they took so much money — bridges, and airports, and military, and everything.  They took so much — hundreds of billions of dollars out of our country.

So now we’re really negotiating, and I think they’re going to treat us very fairly.  I think they want to.  And again, I don’t blame my friend, President Xi.  I blame our representatives, for years, that didn’t do a damn thing, and they allowed it to happen.  I wish we could do what they did because that would make everybody at this table very happy.  So perhaps we’re in the process of doing it.

The other thing is, if you look at the European Union — we’re talking to them — I don’t know if you realize it, but they have virtual barriers against even agriculture, from going in.  So they sell us their Mercedes-Benzes, and they sell us their BMWs, and they sell all the different things.  And we have no barriers whatsoever.

Hello, Pete.  Good job you’re doing.  Nebraska, folks.  Doing a good job.  He never liked me until we met.  (Laughter.)  Right?  He was a Never Trumper.  And his family.

GOVERNOR RICKETTS:  No, that was my brother, Todd.  (Laughter.)

THE PRESIDENT:  No, the whole family.  (Laughter.)  And then I flew to Nebraska — a state I love — I made a speech, and he liked me.  And from then on, he called his brother — he said, “Trump is good.  Let’s be friends.”  Then we became —

GOVERNOR RICKETTS:  Well, remember in that speech, Mr. President, you vowed to open up the Chinese market to our U.S. beef.  And you delivered on that promise.

THE PRESIDENT:  And that’s what we’re doing, right?  Did I deliver?  I did that quickly.

GOVERNOR RICKETTS:  Yeah.

THE PRESIDENT:  In one conversation.  So — good to see you, Pete.

So we are opening up the European Union or we’re not going to be very nice about it.  At the European Union, we’ll lose about $151 billion this year.  We lose with almost everybody.  We lose with Canada.  We lose with Mexico.  We lose with the European Union.  We lose with — certainly, we lose with China, Vietnam.  I mean, no matter where you go, it’s very rare — very rare that our country has a surplus.

But we’re changing it.  And, as Ben said, we want to have trade.  And we want to have barriers taken down because the barriers, in many cases, are far worse than the tariffs.  I mean, the tariffs can be bad, but the barriers are very bad.

So the European Union makes it very hard for agricultural products because their farmers don’t want you there.  The farmers say, “We don’t want the American farmers.”  But that’s not fair because we take all of their stuff.  A lot of cars and lot of other things.  So they’re going to have to take down the barriers because we can’t have it.

You know, when you think of European Union, you think so friendly, so nice.  They’re very brutal to us in terms of trade.  So we’re talking about that, too.

In the end, the farmers are going to be, I think, the biggest beneficiary from all of what’s happening.  They are great people.  We love our farmers.  They were so good to me during the election, that whole — much more than center of the country.  It’s a big group of people, Joni.  Right?

But Sonny Perdue came, and he said, “Look at this.”  And he hung up a map, and the whole thing is red.  And those are those farmers, and we love those farmers.  Right?  We’re going to take care of the farmers.  They haven’t been taken care of.

I mean, you just take a look at European Union.  They virtually can’t do business.  Take a look at China.  Take a look at so many other places.

So we are going to finish off these trade deals.  I’m going to ask Sonny, Secretary of Agriculture, to say a couple of words.  I might ask Bob Lighthizer to say a couple of words, and maybe Larry Kudlow.  And then we will get on with our meeting, and we’ll ask the media to head out of the room.

Sonny.

SECRETARY PERDUE:  Mr. President, the people in this room, both in Congress and governors, represent some of the best people in America, and that is those people that you’ve used a word that I like to use about them.  They’re “patriots” first.  They’re Americans first.

THE PRESIDENT:  Patriots.

SECRETARY PERDUE:  They bring the hardworking ethics of the American spirit from their fields and farms and ranches across this country.  And they support you.  And they understand what you’re trying to do in calling the question — having the courage to call the question against people who have been cheating, both China and EU.  The barriers that you describe actually punish American farmers more than a lot of other industries because the American farmer and rancher has been so productive.  So they’re with you in that effort.

Obviously, from their livelihood perspective, we can understand their anxieties.  And that’s what these people hear about on an ongoing basis.  But I’ve been out last week on the road, assuring them what you told me, is that you are going to take care of the American farmer.  You don’t expect them to be the only soldiers in this battle.

And, first of all, I think your point of what President Xi said over the weekend — I don’t think we’re in a battle yet.  I think we have set the stage for a balanced negotiation that can happen.  And that’s what all of us are hoping and praying for, that we get a good, sound, fair, balanced negotiation with all of these countries.  And we applaud your leadership and courage in calling that question.

THE PRESIDENT:  Well, that’s why I really called the farmers “patriots” — because they know what I’m doing.  They had a group of 10 in one of the shows over the weekend, and they were farmers.  “And do you agree what the President is doing with China?”  And they all agreed.  They all said, “Look, we may have to take a little bit of a hit.”  I don’t even think they will.  But in the end, the country is going to be much stronger; our country is going to be much stronger.

But more importantly, they’re going to be — everything is going to be better.  Just everything is going to be better.  And one of them said, “You know, most importantly, the country is going to be much stronger, but we’re going to make much more money.”  They’re going to be doing much better.

And, you know, as an example, I’m working with Chuck Grassley, and with Joni, and with Deb, and — all of us, right?  We’re all working together.  And we’re working on the ethanol, and it’s really working out.  I think it’s going to really work out.  People have been talking about this for years.  And we think we’re going to do something, I will say, early — and now this is no guarantee — but we’re going to raise it up to 15 percent, which makes a lot of people happy.

We’re going to go to 12 months, which makes a lot of farmers very happy — because we go from 8 months to 12 months, that’s a big difference.  That was always unnecessary and ridiculous.

So we’re going to work out something during the transition period, which is not easy, very complicated, because we have to take care of our refineries.  We have to take care of a lot of other people.  But we’re working on transition now because there will be a two-year period of time that we have a little bit of complexity while things are happening, while things are being built.

But we’re going to be going probably — probably — to 15 [percent], and we’re going to be going to a 12-month period.  So I think that’s going to be —

GOVERNOR RICKETTS :  It’s a great deal.

THE PRESIDENT:  Look at that big smile.  All of a sudden, there’s a lot of smiles.  (Laughter.)

SENATOR FISCHER:  That’s good.

THE PRESIDENT:  And you know what?  It’s going to solve a problem.  And we’re going to be helping also — we’re going to be also helping the refineries.  So the refineries are going to be able to do much better, because right now there are a lot of them that are not doing well.  So we have to help the refineries.  So we’re very close to getting that done and we’ve worked hard on that, Joni.

SENATOR ERNST:  We really have.  We have.

THE PRESIDENT:  But it’s coming along very nicely.

Could I ask Bob Lighthizer to say a few words, please?

AMBASSADOR LIGHTHIZER:  Sure, Mr. President.  I would say, first of all, we’ll get into details about things in the private session, as you asked.  Just preliminary — one, I talk to a lot of people around this room a lot.  Everybody — I hope you all realize that I’m available to talk.  I know this is in-time information, and consulting is important.

And I haven’t talked to all of you, but most of you I talk to a fair amount.  So I want you to know that I welcome to do it.  I’m happy to do it.

THE PRESIDENT:  He’s working about 23 hours a day, and he sleeps for one.  Look at him.  I mean, is this guy — (laughter)  he’s like exhausted.

SENATOR THUNE:  It shows.

THE PRESIDENT:  That’s all right.  That’s okay.  You’re looking good.  Go ahead.

AMBASSADOR LIGHTHIZER:  I don’t look that bad, all right?  (Laughter.)

So the second thing is, we tend to think a lot about agriculture as always on the defensive in all of these things.  The fact is you can’t really find a serious market where we couldn’t do better in agriculture.

China, of course, we talked about the sales there, but they’re a fraction of what they should be — literally, a fraction.  So we’re very much on the aggressive side as far as that goes.

Moving down quickly, of course, we’ve made enormous progress.  People are aware of that.  I feel — I agree with the President on everything, including we’re in no hurry on NAFTA.  Having said that, we’re making progress on NAFTA.

Some of the people don’t focus on — we have 18 cases at the WTO where we are pursuing the interest of agriculture very — within the trading system, which is a very big part of what we do.

THE PRESIDENT:  And we’re starting to get much better results at the World Trade Organization, WTO, because they know we’re not playing games anymore.  You know, we’re going to get the results or they’re not going to be so happy.  I mean, it was set up to hurt us.

I mean, if you look at it, 25 years ago, or whatever it was, it was really set up to take advantage of the United States, as far as I’m concerned.  But we’re starting to get much better results, and that would make, I think, a lot of people very happy.

Go ahead.

AMBASSADOR LIGHTHIZER:  I’ll just say, the final thing I had — and we’ll about this privately — but the China situation is a serious problem.  Everybody realizes something has to be done about it.  I’ll show you the numbers.  They’re off the charts.  It’s a real threat to our economy.

The President has a plan that you can draw, literally, back from June of 2016, where we talked specifically about what we would do.  He ran on this issue.  He has a mandate, and I’ll show you every moderate, reasonable, well-studied step we’ve taken — I’ll do this in private, of course — and you can see how we got here in a very moderate, reasonable way.

But it’s just not an issue that can be further kicked down the road.  We expect to continue to do it that way, and you get a good result, Mr. President.

THE PRESIDENT:  Good.  Thank you very much, Bob.  And you really are doing a great job.  I appreciate it.  But we want to see the end result — because it doesn’t matter what happens during the course, it’s the end result that counts.

I just — while we’re talking about China, we are getting along very well.  I think we’re going to do some great things.  But very importantly, they’re very much helping us at the border of North Korea and they’re continuing to.  And, you know, they view it as something they should do.  I think it’s certainly very beneficial to them.  Getting rid of nuclear weapons is very good for them.  Good for everybody.

But they have really been a great help to us at the border of North Korea, and maybe that all plays into what we’re doing because I think it does.  I think everything does.  But perhaps that’s one of the reasons that they are so helpful.  They’ve been really terrific in helping us get to some kind of a settlement.

Meetings are being set up right now between myself and Kim Jong-un, who will be — I think it will be terrific.  I think we’re going with a lot of respect, and we’ll see what happens.  So we’ve come a long way.  But China has really helped us at the border, and we appreciate it.  Okay?

Larry Kudlow.

KUDLOW:  Yes, sir.  Thank you.  Let me just add on.  Trump economic policies have designed and succeeding now in promoting economic growth in the U.S.  We’re already running over 3 percent growth from the last three quarters.  People said we couldn’t, but we are.  There may be a sloppy quarter in there someplace, but the trend is unmistakable.

I will say — you know me, I’m a growth guy — better economic growth helps everyone.  Everyone.  I don’t care what industry what sector, what state, what region.  Growth helps everyone.  The 155 million Americans are benefitting from growth.  New businesses, existing businesses; new investments, existing investments.  Getting rid of the tax burdens and the regulatory burdens help, and it’s paramount.

In connection with the President’s trade initiatives, these are designed to promote growth.  If you lose sight of that, as we get into the various details, I urge you not to think of the worst case in every situation.  I just urge you to do that.  We’ve got one of the greatest negotiators on the planet.  He’s laid out a menu of options.  Everything is on the table.  If he has to do it, he’ll do it.

But there’s also a positive side.  As the President said, we’ve had good signals from China for change just in the past few days.  The President signaled back.  Great discussions are going on.  The China initiatives, with respect to technology and barriers and autos and farming, this is all designed at the end of the process — I call it the end of the rainbow — to promote growth.  There’s a pot of gold there.  And if you open that pot, there will be better growth and more prosperity for every part of this country and every working person in this country.  That’s the design, is not to punish; it’s to grow.  We never talked about punishment.

And I spoke to a lot of House members and Republican (inaudible) just earlier this morning, and I said this, and I hope I don’t violate anything, sir: Stay with us while we go through this difficult process.  Stay with us.  And at the end, if the worst case has come out as the President said, you will be helped.  That’s a promise.  I echo that promise.  But stay with us now.  The next few months could be very, very important.  And if we succeed — and I do believe he’s going to succeed — growth is the dividend of prosperity, and we haven’t seen it in over 20 years.

So this trade initiative, as part of our growth policies, folds very nicely into lower tax rates and lower regulations.  And President Trump has ended the war on business, and that’s part of this.  We grow at 4 percent — who knows.  This is good stuff, even though it’s difficult in the process, it’s all aimed at growth.  That’s a Kudlow message.  I’ve been saying it for many decades.  I’m still saying it.  And these are the best growth policies I’ve seen since I was a kid working for Reagan.

THE PRESIDENT:  Thank you, Larry, very much.  Beautifully said.

Just to finish, we have some tremendous numbers coming out from companies.  We have hundreds of billions of dollars pouring back into our country from our tax cut plan where money overseas is coming in, which, Larry, you often mention and talk about.  Apple, as an example, is investing $350 billion in plants — which they don’t have too many of, but they will — and campuses and everything else.

Other companies are investing billions of dollars back in our country.  So they’re bringing in billions of dollars, I would say ahead of schedule, even far ahead of schedule.  And that’s going to create growth and jobs and everything else.

As you know, we had 32 solar plants, and of the 32, I think 30 were closed, Larry, right?  There were — it’s a new industry, but they were getting absolutely killed by China and some others.  And we put a tariff on those panels coming in, which were not nearly as good as the ones we make.  And now we have two that are open.  Can you imagine, of the 32, there were two that are — were just about limping along and barely open.

These two are now doing very well and they’re looking to open seven, eight, nine of the plants.  Same thing with washing machines.  They were dumping — if you can believe this — washing machines all over the country.  Just dumping them.  And we put a 30 percent tariff on, and now washing machine plants are expanding and opening in our country.

So I just want to use tariffs judiciously but it can certainly help.  The steel and aluminum industry — 10 percent on aluminum.  And you probably have seen, and I sort of thought this might happen, aluminum is down 4 percent since we put a 10 percent tariff on it.  So someday, somebody is going to explain that to me.  I didn’t think it would be that good; I thought maybe it would go up just a little bit.

Steel, we have taken the tariff off some countries when we’ve been able to renegotiate deals.  For instance, in South Korea, when they heard they had to pay 25 percent tariff on steel coming in, they went absolutely crazy and we made a deal.  The KORUS deal is now pretty much concluded.  And we really made that, I would say, Bob, largely because of the fact that they did not like the fact that they were having to pay tariffs on steel.

So we’ve been able to — even the European Union, they’re not happy about the steel, and we’re negotiating with them.  I don’t know that we would be negotiating without the steel.  And I say, for them to hear, I couldn’t care less.  They can hear it.

In some cases, people are paying tariffs and we’re taking in a lot of money for the country.  Those tariffs are tremendous.  We’re taking in a lot of money.  Not so bad, either.  But the tariffs have really helped us.  When used properly, they really get people to the table.  And that’s what we want.  But I want people to the table, also, for our great American farmers for the ag industry.  I love those people.  We’re taking care of those people.  And it’s working out really well.

So thank you all very much for being here.  And thank you very much.  Thank you.

Q    Mr. President, is military action against Syria inevitable, sir?  Is there any way to avoid it?

THE PRESIDENT:  We’re having a meeting today on Syria.  We’re having a number of meetings today.  We’ll see what happens.  We’re obviously looking at that very closely.

And I will be leaving here.  I was there, and now I’ll be going back as soon as this meeting is over.  But we’re looking very, very seriously, very closely at that whole situation.  And we’ll see what happens, folks.  We’ll see what happens.

It’s too bad that the world puts us in a position like that.  But, you know, as I said this morning, we’ve done a great job with ISIS.  We have just absolutely decimated ISIS.  But now we have to make some further decisions, so they’ll be made fairly soon.

Thank you all very much.  Thank you very much.

END

11:34 A.M. EDT