US-China Business Council on Trump’s reelection prospects

U.S. President Donald Trump “doesn’t necessarily need a deal” with Beijing in order to be reelected in the 2020 presidential race, says a senior director at the U.S.-China Business Council.

“As long as the trade war that we’re in right now isn’t having an impact on the United States’ economy that is demonstrably bad for regular Americans … being tough on China, looking tough, is probably enough,” Anna Ashton, senior director of government affairs at the U.S.-China Business Council, told CNBC’s “Street Signs” on Monday.

Still, she added, the new tariffs that went into effect over the weekend — along with those that will take place in December — will “hit every consumer product that Americans buy.”

The U.S. and China have increased tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s goods since last year, and the latest round of levies kicked in on Sunday.

Globally, the trade fight has roiled investment markets and dampened world economic outlook. Domestically, American businesses from farmers to manufacturers to tech firms have been hurt by the tariffs and are urging both sides to refrain from further escalation.

“I have a hard time imagining that we will get to the 2020 election without seeing a significant impact to people’s pocketbooks,” Ashton said.

US-China tensions could worsen

Ashton said China appears to be showing some restraint in the face of U.S. provocation and that “seems like a positive thing.” However, she added, the reprieve might only be temporary.

Once retaliation resumes, “I think that we will just see more high-stakes brinksmanship from the U.S. side and this could go on and on and keep getting worse.”

President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at the SNHU Arena in Manchester, New Hampshire, August 15, 2019.

Nicholas Kamm | AFP | Getty Images

On the use of punitive tariffs, Ashton said they have “actually made it more difficult” for the two parties to discuss “fundamental issues” that were initially brought up, such as intellectual property protection and forced technology transfer.

Regardless of the outcome of the 2020 U.S. elections, she said she expects “any American administration henceforth is going to be tougher on China.”

However, future governments may take a different approach, Ashton added.

“I don’t think that we necessarily need to expect that a different administration would rely so heavily on tariffs,” she said. “I wouldn’t expect that a different administration, a Democratic administration would take quite the same approach.”

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