WASHINGTON — President Trump held talks with two foreign leaders on Friday, discussing trade and security with British Prime Minister Theresa May at the White House, while also apparently trying to tamp down rising tensions with Mexico’s president over a proposed massive wall.
May, who took part in a joint news conference after an Oval Office meeting with Trump, confirmed Friday that the U.S. and U.K. are seeking to launch bilateral trade negotiations quickly.
“We are discussing how we can establish a trade negotiation agreement, take forward immediate high-level talks, lay the groundwork for a U.K.-U.S. trade agreement and identify the practical steps we can take now in order to enable companies in both countries to trade and do business with one another more easily,” May said. “I’m convinced that a trade deal between the U.S. and U.K. is in the national interest of both countries and will cement the crucial relationship that exists between us, particularly as the U.K. leaves the European Union and reaches out to the world.”
She noted that two-way trade between the U.K. and U.S. is already worth more than 150 billion pounds a year, or $188.3 billion at current exchange, while the U.S. is the “single biggest source of inward investment” in the U.K. Combined, the two countries have $1 trillion invested in each others’ economies, she noted.
“The president and I are ambitious to build on this relationship in order to grow our respective economies, provide high-skilled, high-paying jobs of the future for working people across America and across the U.K.,” May said.
While Trump did not specifically mention consideration of a U.S.-U.K. trade deal at the news conference, he has indicated his interest recently in negotiating a bilateral trade pact with the U.K.
Asked about the Brexit vote — the U.K.’s vote to leave the European Union — Trump said it would be a “wonderful thing for your country.”
“When you iron it out, you are going to have your own identity…and be able to make free trade deals without having somebody [the EU] watch what you do,” Trump said.
But Trump’s attention was divided on Friday, as he also held an hour-long phone conversation with Mexican President Enrique Peña Nieto, who the day before had canceled a meeting with Trump scheduled for next week over the wall controversy.
The relationship between Mexico and the U.S. became frayed after Trump signed an executive order for the construction of a massive wall along the U.S.-Mexico border and pledged to force Mexico to pay for it. Trump has also vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Mexico and Canada.
White House press secretary Sean Spicer added fuel to the flames on Thursday when he told reporters that a 20 percent border tax on Mexican imports is under consideration as a possible way to pay for the wall.
The idea floated by Spicer created a chain reaction, including raising concern among U.S. companies doing business with Mexico that could face higher taxes on their imported goods, not to mention pass them on to American consumers. The White House later sought to clarify Spicer’s remarks and cast the option as one of many under consideration.
“I will say that we had a very good call,” Trump said in response to a reporter’s question at the joint news conference with May. “As you know, Mexico, with the United States, has out-negotiated the U.S. and beat the U.S. to a pulp through our past leaders. They’ve made us look foolish. We have a trade deficit of $60 billion with Mexico. On top of that, the border is soft and weak; drugs are pouring in. I’m not going to let that happen.”
Trump said he and Peña Nieto are going to work on a “fair relationship and a new relationship.”
“But the U.S. cannot continue to lose vast amounts of business, vast amounts of companies and million and millions of people losing their jobs,” Trump said. “That won’t happen with me. We are no longer going to be the country that doesn’t know what it’s doing. So we are going to renegotiate our trade deals. We are going to renegotiate other aspects of our relationship with Mexico.”
The White House issued a statement regarding the call between the two leaders, which the administration said was “mutually arranged” by their respective teams.
“The two had a productive and constructive call regarding the bilateral relationship between the two countries, the current trade deficit the United States has with Mexico, the importance of the friendship between the two nations, and the need for the two nations to work together to stop drug cartels, drug trafficking and illegal guns and arms sales,” the White House said. “With respect to payment for the border wall, both presidents recognize their clear and very public differences of positions on this issue, but have agreed to work these differences out as part of a comprehensive discussion on all aspects of the bilateral relationship.”
Both presidents have directed their teams to continue a dialogue, but no new dates were set on an actual meeting between Trump and Peña Nieto.
Also on Friday, the White House said the administration will launch the Manufacturing Jobs Initiative but gave no details about the plan.
“The President will be meeting with some of the world’s most successful and creative business leaders to share their experiences and gain their insights,” the White House said.
Trump met with a group of business executives on Monday.
“President Trump plans to continually seek information and perspectives from a diverse range of business leaders…on how best to promote job growth and get Americans back to work again,” the White House added.