Politics

Democratic senator urges Trump not to back down on China over US intellectual property theft

Key Points
  • "My hope is that the president ... will get something that is enforceable around IP theft," says Sen. Chris Coons.
  • "The president is right to make this the center point of the rising and sustained trade conflict," adds the Delaware senator.
  • U.S. and China trade negotiators continue to meet in Washington on Friday to lay the groundwork for the resumption of higher-level talks next month.
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Sen. Chris Coons on the trade war, 2020 election, antitrust and more

President Donald Trump needs to ensure that any trade deal with China includes measures to prevent the theft of U.S. intellectual property, Democratic Sen. Chris Coons told CNBC on Friday.

"My hope is that the president, having gotten us to this point, won't back down just for some commitment to buy a couple of shiploads of soybeans — but that we will get something that is enforceable around IP theft," the Delaware senator said.

The U.S. and China have been engaged in an escalating trade war for the past year, with each side upping retaliatory tariffs over the summer. The largest hike in duties took place earlier this month before Washington and Beijing agreed to meet in October for another round of high-level talks. Officials from both sides continue to meet in Washington on Friday to lay the groundwork for those renewed negotiations.

However, some relief is in sight. Earlier this month, privately run Chinese firms bought more than 600,000 metric tons of soybeans, a key move after China suspended all U.S. farm product purchases.

The U.S. also on Friday announced it would temporarily exempt more than 400 types of Chinese products from tariffs that Trump imposed last year. Last week, China announced it would exempt 16 U.S. product lines from tariffs, to which Trump responded by delaying increasing tariffs on $250 billion worth of Chinese goods by two weeks.

While the senator remains optimistic a deal between the world's two largest economies can be reached, Coons stressed Trump should ensure policies are in place to prevent future threats to intellectual property, a key sticking point in the trade talks. China has been repeatedly accused of IP theft, though Beijing has denied those claims.

Vice President Mike Pence on Thursday reiterated some of those concerns at the CNBC-Institutional Investor "Delivering Alpha" conference. Pence told CNBC's Joe Kernen that the U.S. loses almost a half-billion dollars in intellectual property theft every year — in addition to the "$500 billion trade deficits" with China.

"For too long one administration after another, Republican and Democrat administrations, were willing to accept extraordinary disadvantages to American workers and American jobs in the name of trade with China," Pence added.

Though Coons doesn't agree with every trade decision the Trump administration has made, the Delaware Democrat agrees with Pence and Trump on the IP issue.

"The vice president has it right," Coons said in a "Squawk Box" interview. "This is essentially about China's mercantilism. The way they have stolen vast amounts of technology. The president is right to make this the center point of the rising and sustained trade conflict."

On Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi told CNBC's Jim Cramer that she believes the president had to challenge China's trade practices — but she said she's not sold that he took the right steps to hold Beijing accountable. "I think we should have done it multilaterally, with the EU and the rest," said the California Democrat.