WHEN: Today, Tuesday, September 3, 2019
WHERE: CNBC's "Squawk Alley"
The following is the unofficial transcript of a CNBC EXCLUSIVE interview with U.S. Chamber of Commerce CEO Tom Donohue on CNBC's "Squawk Alley" (M-F 11AM - 12PM) today, Tuesday, September 3rd. Video from the interview will post on CNBC.com later today.
All references must be sourced to CNBC.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Amid escalating U.S./China trade tensions, our next U.S. guest is calling for talks to resume quickly. In a recent op-ed he writes, quote: The biggest mistake our leaders can make right now is to stoke further uncertainty. Joining us exclusively is the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Tom Donohue. Tom, welcome back. It's good to see you again.
TOM DONOHUE: Glad to be here.
CARL QUINTANILLA: You write: Withdraw the additional tariffs that were scheduled to go into effect today, this month and December 15th. Why write this, Tom, when it's pretty clear this would be a nonstarter for the White House?
TOM DONOHUE: Well, when we talked about it, when we wrote it, we were hoping that the White House would think about all of the talk about recessions, and difficulties with the Fed and so on. And say, you know, China has fundamental needs. The U.S. has fundamental needs. And if we move these tariffs back, planned for the 1st to the end of the -- December, we'd have a couple of months to come back to the table. China had pretty much indicated their willingness to come back to the table. And I think we would have been much better doing that than continuing to ratchet up of who has the biggest threat available at the time. It's all going to be paid by American companies and American consumers between now and the end of the year. We should do better.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Tom, are you saying that you think of the two sides that the U.S. is the more intransigent of the two? The more stubborn right now?
TOM DONOHUE: No, I think it's your turn. It's my turn. It's your turn, it's my turn. We hear a lot more about what the people in the U.S. are talking about, people in the White House, folks in the Congress, members of the press than you hear about what's going on in China because you only hear what they put out for our consumption. But it is clear they have serious questions about their own economy. It is clear that their banks have had challenges. It is clear their own markets and their own manufacturing are in trouble. And together I think we can look at our mutual problems and maybe make some solutions.
MORGAN BRENNAN: Tom, what would the passing of the USMCA do to help instill some more certainty – given the dynamics right now?
TOM DONOHUE: Well, first of all, it would demonstrate that the Congress, who I believe have enough votes to do it right now, there are going to be a little adjustment, Lighthizer and Nancy Pelosi are fixing a few things. If we came up with a good, strong vote on that, it would give us a great step forward. We'd have a new and, by the way, a very good agreement with the three countries. It would drive our own economy. Mexico and Canada are now our largest trading partners. And we've done it all. We just need to get the Congress to finish the final approval. And if we do it, it will be a positive deal. Both parties will have had people vote for it, which is good for the upcoming election. And I think it would rub off on what we're doing in China.
JON FORTT: Tom, it feels to me, at least for the first time that I can remember, like uncertainty is part of the strategy on the U.S. side. It often is on the other side. But being unpredictable, do you think that can be sustained longer term? And if so, is it going to necessitate a change in the way your members think about how they run their business?
TOM DONOHUE: Well, just think about it this way: uncertainty leads to, eventually, no good. Confidence and some certainty eventually leads to more economic growth. So, if you want to see what we have to do to keep people uncertain, I don't think the end result will be at all acceptable. I would rather see us do the Canada/Mexico deal, I would rather see us go and talk to the people in the Senate -- both parties who have come up with an infrastructure bill -- only half of it, roads, bridges, light rail, that we might be able to move before the end of the year. If we did that kind of thing, I think everybody would have the feeling something positive is going on. Remember, much of this is being driven by the relationship between 20 Democrats running for office, the President and his colleagues running for office, and -- and the media picking it up and consuming it. And if we took the three positive things we talked about and substituted that a little bit for all the politics we're hearing, I have a view that people would get a little more confidence. And the whole issue is get the investors off their seat, put their cash back in the deal, and work hard to try and find the workers we need to carry it forward.
CARL QUINTANILLA: Well, Tom, if you think it's in the realm of the possible even, that's news. It's a good op-ed. Everybody should look at it in "The Washington Post" from a couple days ago. Tom, thanks for the time.
TOM DONOHUE: Look forward to seeing you again soon.
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