Trump is playing the 'long game' in China trade talks: Former White House trade advisor

Key Points
  • Trump is taking a "calculated approach" to trade talks, says Clete Willems, the former lead trade negotiator for the White House.
  • Trump wants a long-term solution with China, he says.
  • "I think we can still get to a place where there is an agreement," he says.
US playing long game on trade talks

President Donald Trump is taking a "calculated approach" to trade talks with China in order to get a long-term solution, the former lead trade negotiator for the White House told CNBC on Friday.

Clete Willems, who left the Trump administration a couple of weeks ago, said the U.S. wants structural change in China that will include meaningful commitments on the forced technology transfer American businesses have faced in the country.

"The president has told his advisors many times they should walk away if those aren't the kind of commitments that they are able to receive," Willems said in an interview with CNBC's Kayla Tausche on "Power Lunch."

President Donald Trump (R) and Chinese Vice Premier Liu He in the Oval Office at the White House, April 04, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Chip Somodevilla | Getty Images

Trade talks between the two nations ended on Friday, just hours after the U.S. boosted tariffs to 25% on $200 billion of Chinese goods. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin called the discussions "constructive" and said nothing has yet been planned for further talks.

Earlier in the day, Trump reiterated the need for increased tariffs, tweeting that the duties "will make our Country MUCH STRONGER, not weaker."


After the talks, Trump said tariffs "may or may not be removed" while discussions continued.


"I'm not going to deny that when you put tariffs in place, that does have an impact on the economy and certainly there will be an impact on business and consumers over the short term," Willems, former deputy director of the National Economic Council.

"What the president is trying to do is to play the long game here and look and see if there is a way to get a long-term benefit for the economy," he added.

"Ultimately, if our businesses can compete on a level playing field in China, if our businesses aren't required to turn over their technology to access the market, if their intellectual property is protected, that would be good for U.S. businesses."

He said he's hopeful that both nations will find a way to move forward with the talks, noting that there have been difficulties in past negotiations and both sides found a way to work together.

"I think we can still get to a place where there is an agreement," Willems said.

"However, it is very significant that they aren't willing to commit to specific things at this point, and it's critical for the United States that they get those commitments so that this deal can actually be enforceable and make a difference over the long term."