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Trump's trade policies cater to 'a sub-group of the population,' economist says

  • The current White House officials are different from previous U.S. administrations "because they care about the trade balance," said Credit Suisse Chief Economist James Sweeney.
  • "There's been a general disregard for trade deficits in the United States since World War II," he said.

President Donald Trump's trade policies, such as tariffs on foreign aluminium and steel imports, are catering to a specific group of the U.S. population, according to a leading economist.

In certain areas of the U.S., a hollowing out of manufacturing activity has impacted people, but the nation is predominantly a services-centered economy, Credit Suisse Chief Economist James Sweeney told CNBC at the bank's annual Asian Investment Conference.

Trump's administration is "playing to a sub-group of the population," he said.

"There's been a general disregard for trade deficits in the United States since World War II ... But there's been an understanding that the U.S. is actually getting a lot out of this and there's dynamics in terms of the rest of the world's willingness to hold U.S. debt," Sweeney added.

It's "a system which has its own special equilibrium," he said.

The current White House is different from previous U.S. governments "because they care about the trade balance," according to Sweeney: "Most economists do not care about it in the way that the Trump administration does."

Data released last month showed the U.S. trade deficit widened more than expected in December, hitting its highest level since 2008.