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Mnuchin backs tariffs, but says country 'not looking to get into trade wars'

  • "We're looking to make sure that U.S. companies can compete fairly around the world," Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin tells House members.
  • The remarks come during a hearing over Treasury's budget proposal and just days after President Trump announced tariffs on steel and aluminum imports.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin asserted on Tuesday that the U.S. is not provoking a global trade war but instead wants its companies to get equal treatment in other countries.

Should President Donald Trump get concessions on NAFTA, the 24-year-old trade pact with Mexico and Canada, he likely will exclude the two nations from tariffs he announced last week on steel and aluminum imports, Mnuchin added during budget testimony in the House.

"We're not looking to get into trade wars. We're looking to make sure that U.S. companies can compete fairly around the world," the Treasury chief told a House Appropriations subcommittee.

"President Trump has been very clear: We want to make sure U.S. companies have the same ability to do business in China as Chinese companies have here," he added.

Trump's tariff threats have roiled financial markets. The president wants to slap a 25 percent levy on steel and 10 percent on aluminum, moves that triggered fears of a broader international commerce battle even though the products make up only a sliver of total U.S. imports.

The president has been emphatic that he wants to restore fairness to trade and slash the U.S. trade deficit, which is now above $50 billion.

"Our priority at the moment is to renegotiate NAFTA and to focus on our trade relationships with China and have fair and balanced trade with China," Mnuchin said.

Mnuchin said he supports the tariffs and reiterated that Trump remains open to re-entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership so long as concessions are made.

"I am supportive of them and I am supportive of the mechanisms that the president has announced," he said.

WATCH: House Speaker Paul Ryan offers tariff thoughts.