Trump to urge Latam to look to U.S., not China, on trade: official

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - President Donald Trump, engaged in an escalating confrontation with Beijing over trade, will urge Latin American leaders next week to work with the United States - not China - on trade, a senior U.S. official said on Thursday.

U.S. President Donald Trump holds a joint news conference with Lithuania's President Dalia Grybauskaite and other Baltic leaders at the White House in Washington, U.S., April 3, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

Trump’s trip to Lima, Peru for the Summit of the Americas has been prefaced by aggressive moves on trade and immigration.

In a telephone briefing with reporters ahead of the trip, the U.S. official, who declined to be named, said China’s trade policies had “not been productive for the hemisphere and that the United States should remain the partner of choice” for Latin American countries.

Just 11 hours after the Trump administration proposed 25 percent tariffs on some 1,300 Chinese industrial, technology, transport and medical products, China shot back with a list of similar duties on U.S. imports, including soybeans, planes, cars, beef and chemicals.

The dispute has roiled financial markets and angered U.S. lawmakers in agricultural states who worry about the economic impact of retaliatory tariffs on crops.

Trump has also been sparring with Mexico and Canada on an overhaul of the North American Free Trade Agreement. In addition, his administration is arguing with Argentina over biodiesel and had threatened tariffs on imports of steel from top supplier Brazil.

But in his address to the Summit of the Americas, Trump will suggest that the United States is a better trade partner than China, which is the top trade partner for Latin American countries ranging from Brazil, the region’s largest economy, to Uruguay.

Substantive discussions on NAFTA are not expected at the summit, the official said.

It was also unclear how much emphasis Trump would place on stopping illegal immigration from the region into the United States, a major pledge of his presidential election campaign.

Leading up to the summit, Trump has announced he wants to post National Guard troops along the southern border with Mexico, and has ramped up tough rhetoric against illegal immigration from Honduras and other parts of Central America.

Trump also plans to address the crisis in Venezuela with regional leaders, the official said, adding that the U.S. government was still examining next steps on sanctions, with new announcements not expected for several months.

Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro has in recent weeks said he would attend the summit, despite being told not to by Peru’s government.

But on Thursday he played down plans over his possible attendance.

“We’re evaluating it, for me it’s not a priority,” Maduro said in a televised news conference, in response to a reporter’s question. “You know that those Summits of the Americas are a terrible waste of time.”

Reporting by Roberta Rampton and Lisa Lambert in Washington, additional reporting by Vivian Sequera in Caracas; editing by Caren Bohan, David Gregorio and Rosalba O’Brien