President Donald Trump confronted the United States’ own trade representative over his use of the term “memorandum of understanding” during a televised meeting in front of the top Chinese trade negotiator Friday evening.
Eventually, after laughter from the Chinese delegation over the public spat, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer pledged to follow the President’s whim and stop using the term to refer to any trade agreements with China.
“I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything,” Trump said during the televised Oval Office meeting with Lighthizer and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He on Friday.
Lighthizer responded, contradicting Trump: “An MOU is a contract. It’s the way trade agreements are generally viewed. People refer to it like it’s a term sheet. It’s not a term sheet. It’s an actual contract between the two parties.”
“By the way, I disagree,” Trump said, to laughter from Liu.
“From now on, we’re not using the word ‘memorandum of understanding’ anymore,” a clearly exasperated Lighthizer responded. ‘We’re going to use the term ‘trade agreement,’ alright?”
“Okay,” Liu said back.
Lighthizer added: “We’ll have the same document, it’s going to be called a trade agreement.”
Lighthizer has reportedly chafed at Trump’s involvement in the trade talks. Unnamed sources “familiar with the discussions” tried to downplay the televised disagreement in a Wall Street Journal article on Saturday.