May 13, 2017
BARI, Italy — U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Saturday that major trading partners are "much more comfortable" with the Trump administration's stance on trade and tax policy and understand that they will benefit from the intended U.S. growth.
Mnuchin spoke after face-to-face meetings with major trade partners such as Germany, Japan and Canada on the sidelines of the Group of Seven finance ministers' meeting in Bari, Italy.
The meeting focused on finance and security issues such as keeping multinationals from dodging taxes and a collective response to cybercrime like the ransomware attack that hit dozens of countries on Friday.
A broader theme not on the written agenda, however, was the desire of foreign leaders to get a better read on Trump's policies, and U.S. officials desire to make their positions clear. Trump has vowed to press for trade that is fair as well as open and benefits U.S. workers and has focused on bilateral, or country-to-country, relations.
Mnuchin said that after meetings in Bari and a broader finance summit in Baden-Baden, Germany in March, "people feel a level of comfort" in understanding the Trump administration policies. He said counterparts understand that "we don't want to be protectionist, but we reserve our right to be protectionist to the extent we believe trade is not free and fair."
One partner openly pushing back was Canadian Finance Minister Bill Morneau, who rejected as "baseless" duties the U.S. imposed on some Canadian lumber imports. Still, both he and Mnuchin stressed how important the U.S.-Canada trade relationship is to both economies. A Canadian ministry statement called it a "productive discussion" and that Canada committed to working out a durable solution.
Attention also focused on Trump's plans to cut U.S. corporate taxes. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, a group representing many advanced economies, has urged the U.S. to lower its corporate tax rate.
Mnuchin said "this is a big priority for the president ... We're going to try to get this done as quickly as we can." But he offered little detail.
He said the administration was focused on growth, "and growth in the United States is good for the world economy."
In their closing statement, the finance ministers warned that long-term growth could remain subdued and that steps need to be taken to make the global economy work for everyone.
They also called for a renewed common effort against cybercrime. Italian Finance Minister Pier Carlo Padoan said Saturday's session on cybercrime was "unfortunately very timely," an apparent reference to the wave of ransomware attacks in which files were locked and payment demanded to unlock them.
The gathering paved the way for a meeting of national leaders in Taormina, Sicily on May 26-27. The G7 countries are Canada, France, Germany, Japan, Italy, the United States and the United Kingdom. The European Union also attends the informal forum.
The group's agreements aren't legally binding; instead, they represent the leaders' political commitment to follow through.