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House Speaker casts doubt on Congress acting to stop trade tariffs

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07/12/2018 | 10:11pm CEST

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan said on Thursday that while he does not support President Donald Trump's moves to impose tariffs on major U.S. trading partners' goods, he questioned the wisdom of Congress taking legislative action to stop such sanctions.

"What's more effective and constructive is to work with the administration to get the policy in a good place and that's what we're doing," Ryan said in response to a reporter's question. "I think that's going to be more effective than trying to pass a piece of legislation that will not make it into law," he added.

At his weekly news conference, Ryan noted that there is a "difference of opinion" over trade policy and added that Republican leaders in Congress "engage with the administration daily."

U.S. farmers and other businesses in states that strongly supported Trump's election in 2016 have expressed concerns that their exports could be damaged by a trade war with China or European nations.

That has prompted some in Congress, including Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker, to push legislation to give Congress a stronger role in the president's decisions to impose tariffs for national security reasons.

Ryan's remarks reflected the difficulty Corker and others could have in getting enough support in the Republican-controlled Congress to defy Trump by placing new constraints on his ability to levy trade tariffs.

Even if such a bill did pass, Trump could veto it, setting up a standoff between warring factions in the Republican Party shortly before the November midterm elections that will determine whether Democrats take over either the House of Representatives or the Senate.

On Wednesday the Senate, by an overwhelming 88-11 vote, approved a nonbinding measure by Corker and two other Republicans that would give Congress tougher oversight of Trump's imposition of certain tariffs.

This week, Trump threatened 10 percent tariffs on $200 billion worth of Chinese goods.

If they were to go into effect later this year, they would be on top of tariffs that Washington triggered on July 7 on $34 billion worth of Chinese exports.

China has retaliated and in Geneva on Thursday, Chinese Vice Minister of Commerce Wang Shouwen called on the United States to stand down. He called Washington "a trade bully" in remarks to reporters.

In Washington, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin told Congress that the two trading partners could resume trade talks if Beijing signaled a willingness to make "structural changes" in its policies.

(Reporting by Richard Cowan; Editing by Chizu Nomiyama, Susan Thomas and Jonathan Oatis)

By Richard Cowan

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