The boss is always right. United States trade representative Robert Lighthizer realized as much in real-time with cameras rolling inside the White House Friday as Chinese trade representatives chuckled in the background.
The exchange between Trump and Lighthizer had to do with language, specifically, what a “memorandum of understanding” meant in trade negotiations parlance.
Trump conveyed to reporters in the room that the memorandums would “be very short term,” and that “I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything,” Bloomberg reported.
That prompted a surprised Lighthizer to defend the strategy, saying, “an MOU is a binding agreement between two people….it’s detailed [and] covers everything in great detail.”
Speaking as much to Trump as to the Chinese and reporters in the room as way of clarification, the trade rep continued by saying: “It’s a legal term….a contract.”
A Chinese negotiator, Vice Premier Liu He, laughed out loud at the apparent real time misunderstanding between Trump and Lighthizer on what a memorandum of understanding meant.
“The real question is, Bob,” Trump said, “how long will it take to put that into a final binding contract?”
Realizing what was going on, Lighthizer immediately pivoted to accommodate the new Trump trade terminology.
“From now on we’re not using the word memorandum of understanding anymore,” he said to reporters and other trade reps in the meeting. “We’re going to use the term trade agreement,” Lighthizer said. “We’ll have the same document [but] it’s going to be called a trade agreement.”
Watch the video of the meeting below.