Trade war 'is the greatest threat to the world economy,' JP Morgan's Frenkel says

  • A trade war between the U.S. and China represents the greatest threat to the world economy, the chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase International said on Friday.
  • An escalating trade tussle between the world's two largest economies has dominated headlines for the past few weeks and threatens to result in hundreds of billions of dollars worth of trade tariffs.
  • The banker meanwhile praised the Trump administration's domestic economic policies.

A trade war between the U.S. and China represents the greatest threat to the world economy, the chairman of J.P. Morgan Chase International said on Friday.

"I think it's the greatest danger today to the world economy," Jacob Frenkel told CNBC's Steve Sedgwick at the European House Ambrosetti Forum when asked about the rapidly mounting import tariffs being proposed by the Trump administration and Beijing.

"It's still not a trade war — I would say there were some skirmishes, and there are skirmishes," Frenkel said. "I think we should all remember the disaster of 1931 — always good intentions, to protect American jobs, and the result was a catalyst to the Great Depression. We should avoid it at all costs."

Frenkel's comments come amid an escalating trade tussle between the world's two largest economies that has dominated headlines for the past few weeks, kicked off by President Donald Trump's announcement of sweeping tariffs on all Chinese steel and aluminum imports in early March.

The continuing tit-for-tat battle saw Beijing on Wednesday unveil tariffs of 25 percent on 106 U.S. export products, amounting to $50 billion annually.

Jacob Frenkel, chairman of JPMorgan Chase International
Qilai Shen | Bloomberg | Getty Images
Jacob Frenkel, chairman of JPMorgan Chase International

Trump raised the stakes on Thursday when he said he had instructed the United States Trade Representative to consider $100 billion in additional tariffs against China.

Frenkel was emphatic in his warning against an escalation of the economic dispute.

"A world that is so interdependent, so interconnected, cannot afford shooting each other," he said. "The world in which the rules of the game are an eye for an eye is a world in which there are many blind people."

Asked whether the Chinese would be willing to negotiate, Frenkel replied in the affirmative. "The Chinese are very rational," he said. "But any negotiations have to be respectful ... Not shooting, just talking."

Meanwhile, the banker, who also formerly served as an economic counselor at the International Monetary Fund, praised the Trump administration's domestic economic policies, in particular corporate tax cuts, repatriation of revenues kept abroad, and deregulation.

Frenkel said he was not going to be a spokesman for the U.S. administration but that the policy measures have been received very enthusiastically by the business sector.

"If you want real recovery, you have to have the business sector expanding their hiring and expanding their capital investments," he said, describing the performance of the world economy ten years after the financial crisis as "so balanced and so positive."