President Donald Trump defended his administration's trade clashes on Tuesday, telling world leaders the U.S. will act in its "national interest" when it feels cheated.
Trump's comments to the United Nations General Assembly follow his latest shot in a trade war with China, the world's second-largest economy. His administration slapped 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese goods — a move he justified Tuesday as necessary to defend American workers.
"We will no longer tolerate such abuse. We will not allow our workers to be victimized, our companies to be cheated, and our wealth to be plundered and transferred," Trump said during his remarks in New York.
In wide-ranging comments, the president listed what he deemed his successes on the international stage, including withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal and working with North Korea's Kim Jong Un to dismantle the dictatorship's nuclear program. He also cited efforts to renegotiate what he called "broken and bad trade deals" with countries who he said gained an "unfair advantage" over the United States in the past.
Trump won the White House partly on his pledges to scrap trade agreements that he said punished American workers. The strategy has led to new tariffs — and fresh tensions — with major trading partners such as China, Canada, Mexico and the European Union.
The conflict with China has sparked backlash from Republican lawmakers and U.S. companies, some of whom argue the tariffs are simply taxes that will raise costs for consumers. Republicans and Democrats alike who support new trade agreements have worried the president's policy sows chaos rather than protects workers and consumers. The policy could cause political repercussions at home if voters express frustration with trade policy at the polls in November's midterm elections.
The president, though, sees the tariffs only as means to a productive end. Speaking to international leaders Tuesday, Trump fixed his ire on multiple countries who he argued have abused U.S. workers for years. He criticized nations admitted to the World Trade Organization that "violate every single principle" on which the group is based.
But Trump took the most specific jabs at China. He criticized product dumping, possible currency manipulation and alleged theft of intellectual property — all practices his administration has slammed China for in the past.
Trump stressed the need to address the U.S. trade deficit with China, saying "our trade imbalance is just not acceptable." He added that any efforts by Beijing to distort markets "cannot be tolerated."
The president's rhetoric and tariff policy have so far failed to lead to a new trade deal with China. The U.S. and Canada have also struggled to reach a consensus on a framework to revise the three-nation North American Free Trade Agreement.
But Trump on Tuesday highlighted his successes in reworking deals with one NAFTA partner, Mexico, and with South Korea.
"This is just the beginning," he said of efforts to revise trade agreements.