Kudlow Doesn’t Have Much To Show For Promised ‘Trade Coalition Of The Willing’

National Economic Council Director Larry Kudlow speaks during an interview in front of the White House on April 6, 2018 in Washington, DC. / AFP PHOTO / Mandel NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)

President Donald Trump’s top economic adviser on Sunday had little to say about a so-called “trade coalition of the willing” he’d previously outlined amid heightened tensions over a potential trade war between the United States and China.

“You said on Friday that you were going to announce a ‘trade coalition of the willing’ today; other countries that were going to join us in taking on China,” Fox News’ Chris Wallace told Larry Kudlow, Trump’s newly-appointed director of the National Economic Council, during an interview on “Fox News Sunday.”

“Who are they?” Wallace asked.

Kudlow, an experienced TV commentator before his White House hiring, seemed to hesitate.

“I didn’t make this announcement,” he said. “I’m just observing.”

In fact, he had. When Fox News Fox Business’ Stuart Varney asked Kudlow Friday if he’d “heard from the Europeans or the Japanese that, yes, they’re on board with this escalation of the tariff threat” against China, Kudlow said he couldn’t speak for Europe, but that Japan was “supporting us on this.”

Kudlow added Friday: “Just give us another 24 to 48 hours, you’re going to see what I call a trade coalition of the willing to change and get China back into the world by abiding by the laws.” It echoed a comment he made on CNBC in mid-March. The phrase is seemingly a reference to the “coalition of the willing,” former President George W. Bush’s term for countries that supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq and subsequent occupation of the country. 

Wallace pressed: “No, no, no, you said on Friday, between 24 and 48 hours I’m going to announce a trade coalition of the willing. Do you have them?”

“They are coming to us,” Kudlow said.

“Well who are they?” Wallace asked.

“Japan, Europe, Australia, Canada. They have come to us,” Kudlow said, vaguely.

“But they are not talking about tariffs,” Wallace said.

“Sure they are,” Kudlow shot back.

“No they’re not,” Wallace said.

The trade partners Kudlow listed have not threatened to join the U.S. in slapping new tariffs on China. In fact, Japan wasn’t even among the U.S. allies exempted from Trump’s tariffs on imported steel and aluminum.

Wallace pointed out that Japan had merely announced its intent to join the United States in complaining to the World Trade Organization about China, “just as free traders have done for years.”

“Just to press this,” Wallace asked later. “Has any other country joined us in threatening tariffs if China doesn’t clean up its act?”

“I can’t answer that,” Kudlow said. “I don’t even want to answer that. All I’m saying is my trade coalition of the willing will put the whole world behind the United States’ actions against China, and this is going to have a big effect on China.”

“China does not want to lose face, but China does not want to be regarded as the enemy in trade for the entire world,” he continued. “The WTO, by the way, is one of the processes. Ambassador Lighthizer has that in his releases, so we will work there. We will work directly with the Chinese. But I want to make this clear, President Trump is a great negotiator. The tariffs, which none of us particularly want, may — I say may — have to be part of this discussion and argument, they may.”

Trump himself on Sunday seemed to attempt to assuage fears of a trade war resulting from recent tariffs and tariff threats exchanged with China. 

And Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, in an interview on CBS’ “Face the Nation,” reaffirmed his earlier sentiment that while he did not think there would be a trade war with China, “it could be.”

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