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Cohn says US is 'desperate' to sign trade agreement with China

Jennifer Epstein, Bloomberg News on

Published in News & Features

WASHINGTON -- Gary Cohn, the former head of President Donald Trump's National Economic Council, said the U.S. is "desperate right now" for a trade pact with China as negotiators from both countries seek to reach a deal.

"The president needs a win," Cohn said in an interview with the Freakonomics podcast, according to a transcript released Wednesday.

Cohn's comments stand in contrast to statements from Trump that he's in no rush for an agreement and is prepared to walk away from negotiations. Trump said Wednesday that a deal has to be "right" and that it must include provisions stopping the theft of U.S. intellectual property.

"I'm not in a rush whatsoever," Trump told reporters at the White House.

Investors have been heartened by signs that Trump is looking to sign a deal with Chinese leader Xi Jinping, possibly at a summit at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida as early as this month or next.

Cohn said he maintains a "very amicable relationship" with Trump and that they've talked about the economy and personnel since he left the White House in March 2018. On trade with China, Cohn said the biggest questions are how to stop Chinese theft of intellectual property and copyright infringement.

"The only big open issue right now that he could claim as a big win that he'd hope would have a big impact on the stock market would be a Chinese resolution," Cohn said of a trade agreement. "Getting the trade deficit down I will never say is easy, but of the issues on the table, that's relatively easier."

On another topic, Cohn said he wouldn't be the right person to serve as chairman of the Federal Reserve. But he didn't close the door on one day serving as treasury secretary.

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"I am totally not the person to be the chairman of the Fed. That is -- that would be the worst position you could give to Gary Cohn," said Cohn, former president of Goldman Sachs Group Inc.

Before Trump's November 2017 nomination of Jerome Powell to lead the Fed, the president had suggested in public and in private that Cohn was on his short list of potential nominees before ruling him out. There was no indication then that Cohn had removed himself from consideration for the job, but Cohn told podcast host Stephen Dubner that the position would not have been right for him.

"It's a real, real, real academic position sitting with Ph.D. economists all day long and debating the economic tilt/slant micro of the U.S. economy," he said. "It's not my skill set. One of my successes in life is knowing what I'm good at, and more importantly knowing what I'm not good at. I would not have been good at that job."

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