U.S. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is headed Friday to his first G-20 meeting of the world's top financial leaders in Germany with a message that the new administration of President Donald Trump won't tolerate any countries that try to devalue their currencies to gain an unfair trade advantage.
The U.S. ran a trade deficit of $502 billion last year, the difference between the value of U.S. exports compared to the bigger worth of products it imports. Even as Trump has vowed to end multi-national trade deals, it is a figure that could grow with the strong U.S. dollar, boosting U.S. manufacturing costs and making it more difficult to sell U.S. products overseas.
Trump has complained during his long run to the White House that China's yuan currency and the eurozone's euro currency are too weak, giving Beijing and the 19-nation euro currency bloc an unfair trade balance with the U.S. The new president has been particularly vocal in his attacks on China's currency valuation, even as he is planning a two-day summit next month at his Florida retreat along the Atlantic Ocean with Chinese President Xi Jinping.
Mnuchin, aides said this week, plans to “push hard” at the two-day meeting in the German spa resort of Baden-Baden with his finance chief counterparts to reaffirm previous G-20 commitments to avoid competitive currency devaluations.
But European Central Bank President Mario Draghi said last week that it is the U.S. dollar that is overvalued, rather than that the euro is undervalued. China's premier Li Keqiang, representing the world's second biggest economy after the U.S., said this week that Beijing does not want a trade war and would not devalue its currency.
Mnuchin could face tough questions from his counterparts about Trump's withdrawal from the proposed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership that was championed by former U.S. president Barack Obama and his announced intention to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada. The new president says he favors one-to-one trade deals between the U.S. and other individual countries.
Trump also has said he wants to impose stiff tariffs — perhaps 35 percent — on products manufactured by American businesses at overseas locations that the companies then bring back to sell in the United States. Congress would have to approve such a tariff, which almost certainly would boost the cost of foreign-made goods for American consumers and could ignite a tit-for-tat tariff war with other countries importing U.S. goods.