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Mnuchin says Trump could do a China trade pact at any time, but wants a 'good' deal for US workers

Key Points
  • "President Trump is only going to agree to a deal if it's a good deal, a deal that's good for U.S. companies and U.S. workers," Mnuchin tells CNBC.
  • The latest trade developments between Washington and Beijing have taken an upbeat tone with trade talks set to resume at high levels in October.
  • But Mnuchin says Trump still has all options available to him, including raising taxes on imports from China.
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Mnuchin: Trump is holding out for a 'good' China trade deal for US workers

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told CNBC on Thursday that President Donald Trump could strike a pact with China at "any time" but is focused on striking the best deal possible for American workers.

Asked whether Trump might settle for a watered-down, temporary agreement in an effort to secure the U.S. economy ahead of the 2020 election, Mnuchin said the president still has all options available to him, including raising taxes on imports from China.

"The president is a negotiator. And he is prepared to keep these tariffs in place, he's prepared to raise tariffs if we need to raise tariffs," Mnuchin said in a "Squawk Box" interview.

"The president is correct: He could do a deal any time. But he only wants to do a good deal."

"And let me just remind you, these discussions have been going on for 2½ years," he added. "And President Trump is only going to agree to a deal if it's a good deal, a deal that's good for U.S. companies and U.S. workers."

Though deliberations between the world's two largest economies have been volatile in recent months, Trump on Wednesday announced that he would delay a forthcoming tariff hike on China in a "gesture of good will."

"The president delayed it because of a request from the vice premier," Mnuchin said, referring to China's top trade negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He. "The optics of us raising the tariffs on October 1st, which is their 70th anniversary, caused them grave concern on the symbolism."

Earlier Wednesday, China dropped tariff plans for 16 U.S. products, including food for livestock, cancer drugs and lubricants.

The marginally upbeat dialogue between the U.S. and China in recent weeks comes after a summer of volatility between the world's two largest economies.

Trump abruptly ended a cease-fire with China on Aug. 1 by announcing 10% tariffs on $300 billion worth of Chinese goods, some of which took effect Sept. 1. The president delayed the introduction of some of the duties to mitigate the impact on American consumers during the Christmas shopping season.

China responded in kind later in August, introducing new tariffs on $75 billion worth of U.S. goods, effective Sept. 1 and Dec. 15, the two dates when Trump's tariffs take effect on Beijing's goods. It also confirmed it is suspending agricultural product purchases in light of the Trump administration's new tariffs.

"Now as it relates to agriculture, we expect and we want them to buy agriculture," Mnuchin told CNBC. "We view that as a personal attack on our farmers. They need our agriculture."

"This isn't about just selling them soybeans, but we do want to sell them soybeans," he said.