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Secretary of State Pompeo Faces Questions On Growing Number Of Trade Disputes


It was billed as a speech about economic diplomacy, but Secretary of State Mike Pompeo faced questions in Detroit today about the Trump administration's growing number of trade disputes. NPR's Michele Kelemen reports he singled out China for what he calls an unprecedented level of larceny.

MICHELE KELEMEN, BYLINE: Secretary Pompeo says he sees it as part of his job to break down barriers for American businesses and to call out unfair economic behavior. In a speech to the Detroit Economic Club, he zeroed in on China.


MIKE POMPEO: Chinese leaders, over these past few weeks, have been claiming of openness and globalization. But it's a joke. Let's be clear. It's the most predatory economic government that operates against the rest of the world today.

KELEMEN: But he also took aim at U.S. partners in the Group of Seven saying, for far too long, the free trade framework has become distorted to the advantage of others.

Since the speech was in Detroit, just across the border from a major trading partner, Canada, the first question was about that. Pompeo tried to reassure the audience about the administration's approach to renegotiating NAFTA, the North American Free Trade Agreement.


POMPEO: I'm convinced, when the trade negotiations are complete, that there will be more volume, more dollars and greater freedom of trade between the United States and Canada. I'm completely convinced of it.

KELEMEN: And he says the U.S. relationship with Canada and with Europe are about more than trade, so the secretary believes that will continue. One of his predecessors, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright, is not so sure. She told the conference in Washington that she's headed to Europe this week and expects to face a lot of questions about U.S. tariffs.


MADELEINE ALBRIGHT: It is something that is not appropriate normally for a former diplomat to criticize your own country when you're abroad. But if I'm going to be truthful, I think the last few weeks have been appalling in terms of what we've done to partnerships, to understanding how the international system works.

KELEMEN: Albright says the Trump administration is leaving a vacuum on the world stage - one that China is filling. Secretary Pompeo, though, doesn't seem to be worried about that, accusing China of engaging in what he calls Predatory Economics 101. And he says other countries are realizing that. Michele Kelemen, NPR News, the State Department. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michele Kelemen has been with NPR for two decades, starting as NPR's Moscow bureau chief and now covering the State Department and Washington's diplomatic corps. Her reports can be heard on all NPR News programs, including Morning Edition and All Things Considered.