Donald Trump’s chief economic adviser backtracks on comments Australia will join trade coalition

US President Donald Trump’s new chief economic adviser has backtracked on his bold announcement of a “trade coalition of the willing”, which would see Australia, Japan and other allies joining America in its high-stakes tariff battle with China.

In the latest confusing chapter emerging from the Trump White House, Larry Kudlow, who succeeded Gary Cohn earlier this month as Mr Trump’s National Economic Council director, announced on Friday the trade coalition was being formed.

It came as the US and China threatened massive tariffs against each other. “Just give us another 24 to 48 hours — you’re going to see a trade coalition of the willing,” Mr Kudlow told the Fox Business TV channel on Friday.

Two days later, however, when Mr Kudlow appeared on Fox News on Sunday, he initially denied he made the comment.

“You said on Friday that you were going to announce a trade coalition of the willing today, other countries that were going to join us in taking on China. Who are they?” veteran Fox News host Chris Wallace asked.

Mr Kudlow replied: “I didn’t make this announcement. I’m just observing.”

Wallace refused to let Mr Kudlow off the hook and that is when Mr Kudlow added Australia to the “trade coalition of the willing”.

“No, no, you said on Friday, between 24 and 48 hours I’m going to announce the trade coalition of the willing. Do you have them?” Wallace asked. Mr Kudlow replied: “They are coming to us.” Wallace continued to pepper Mr Kudlow for answers and it led to this odd exchange.

Wallace: “Who are they?” Mr Kudlow: “Japan, Europe, Australia, Canada. They have come to us. The president actually …” Wallace: “They are not talking about tariffs.” Mr Kudlow: “Sure they are.” Wallace: “No, they’re not.” Mr Kudlow: “Sure they are.” Wallace: “Japan said that they were going to join us in taking this issue to the World Trade Organisation and to object to Chinese trade practices, just as free traders have done for years.” Mr Kudlow: “But if China maintains its Third World status, as they have in the WTO, then other countries are free to take whatever actions they want.” Wallace again would not let Mr Kudlow off the hook.

Wallace: “But, if I just depress this, has any other country joined us in threatening tariffs if China doesn’t clean up its act?” Mr Kudlow: “I can’t answer that. I don’t even want to answer that. All I’m saying is my trade coalition of the willing will put the whole world behind the United States’ actions against China, and this is going to have a big effect on China.” On Monday, Mr Kudlow again fronted US TV cameras, but this time tempered his proclamation that a trade coalition was on the way.

“The president is amenable to that,” Mr Kudlow told CNBC’s Squawk on the Street program.

“He’s not necessarily out soliciting support yet, but he is amenable. “We’ve had Japan come out, Europe, France, Germany, Canada.

“It is, I call it, a trade coalition of the willing.

“That’s my view, I don’t think the president has quite put it that way. “The whole world knows China can’t continue to behave illegally and unfairly as they have.”