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Treasury’s Mnuchin: ‘I don’t think we’re in a trade war’

Treasury’s Mnuchin: ‘I don’t think we’re in a trade war’

WASHINGTON (CNN) – It’s not a trade war.

So says Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, who insisted Thursday that escalating American tariffs against China and some allies amount to nothing more than disputes.

Mnuchin’s comments to House lawmakers came as the Trump administration prepared yet another round of tariffs on Chinese goods worth $200 billion, a move that would heighten tensions between the world’s two largest economies.

Already, the United States has imposed a 25% tariff on $34 billion worth of China’s exports. China has retaliated in kind.

“I don’t think we’re in a trade war,” Mnuchin told lawmakers during a House Financial Services Committee hearing. “We’re in a situation of trade disputes.”

Pressed further by lawmakers about tit-for-tat trade penalties between Washington and Beijing, Mnuchin said, “I wouldn’t say we’re in a fight at all.”

The tariffs and threats have repeatedly rattled Wall Street this year, and businesses across the country have expressed concern.

Related: Trump readies new tariffs on China

At the hearing, lawmakers from both parties expressed deep concerns over the potential harm imposed tariffs and retaliatory actions will have on the US economy.

“Not only do tariffs harm American consumers, they harm many American employers and their American workers as well, since over half of our imports are intermediate components or raw materials for American businesses,” said Jeb Hensarling, the Texas Republican chairman of the committee.

Related: China says the US has started ‘the biggest trade war’ in history

Mnuchin repeatedly reassured both Democrats and Republicans that he has yet to see any negative impact on business sentiment and the US economy as a result of the tariffs.

“We are monitoring the economic situation,” Mnuchin told lawmakers. “We have not seen any negative impact.”

That assessment runs counter to what most Federal Reserve officials think. Minutes of a June meeting showed policy makers are increasingly troubled about intensifying trade friction, and the snag it could create for the economy.

Businesses across the country, from steel and aluminum to farming, have been telling Fed officials about plans to pull back on their investments in their businesses.

Related: US-China trade brawl threatens America’s booming oil exports

That sentiment was echoed by several House lawmakers, who aired worries that businesses in their own home states have halted capital spending and investment because of uncertainty.

“When the dust finally settles, the Administration’s trade policy may prove to be brilliant,” Hensarling said. “But in the meantime, [capital expenditure] checkbooks are closing and expansion plans are being put on hold as growing uncertainty creeps throughout our economy.”

Mnuchin pledged the administration wouldn’t pursue measures that would undermine the ability to achieve 3% economic growth.

“I assure you that we are not going to do anything to jeopardize the great growth of the economy, although I recognize there are certain areas, in certain markets that have been targeted that we need to be careful and sensitive to,” said Mnuchin.

Related: Trade war fallout: Soybean prices plunge to a 10-year low

Trump has also imposed tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from the European Union, Canada and Mexico, all US allies, citing national security concerns. Those countries have carried out or threatened their own retaliation.

Mnuchin said the United States wasn’t in a “fight” with Canada and Mexico either. He said the administration is prioritizing NAFTA negotiations following the recent election in Mexico. The secretary will travel Friday to Mexico with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to continue trade talks.

The top Democrat on the committee, Maxine Waters, pressed Mnuchin on Harley-Davidson’s decision to move some of its production overseas following retaliatory tariffs imposed by the European Union.

President Donald Trump has reached out to top executives at the motorcycle maker to ask the company to keep jobs in the United States, Mnuchin said. He said he didn’t know the status of those talks.

Mnuchin said the administration is monitoring the impact on prices of soybean, aluminum and steel as part of ongoing trade disputes.

“We are monitoring all of these specific issues,” Mnuchin said. “We are concerned about the potential job losses.”