White House in damage control mode after top adviser quits

WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump's team played down talk of a trade war on Wednesday as it fought to limit a financial market sell-off, promising a quick decision on contentious tariffs that prompted a popular economic adviser to the president to quit.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin rushed to the cameras to calm market jitters over proposed steel and aluminium duties, which they indicated were still negotiable and would not hurt growth.

As markets fell on news that Wall Street favourite Gary Cohn had resigned from the White House in protest against Mr Trump's trade decision and global partners vowed retaliation, Mr Ross tried to calm fears of a trade war.

"We're going to have sensible relations with our allies," he told CNBC, saying Mr Trump's policy was "thought through. We are not looking for a trade war".

Mr Mnuchin joined the effort, claiming the tariffs, which are not yet finalised, would not hurt the administration's projections for 3 per cent growth.

Mr Trump surprised and angered Republican lawmakers with his impromptu tariff announcement last week.

Congress is now starting to contemplate legislation that would block the measures from taking effect.

Even Mr Trump's most accommodating allies have begun to speak out.

"There is a lot of concern among Republican senators that this could sort of metastasise into a larger trade war," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told reporters.


"There is a high level of concern about interfering with what appears to be an economy that is taking off in every respect."

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders also tried to soothe unease.

"We are still on pace for an announcement on that at the end of this week," she said, adding that Mr Trump would also quickly move to replace Mr Cohn with a mainstream pick.

Mr Cohn's departure has given Mr Trump's "nationalist" advisers such as arch China sceptic Peter Navarro and Mr Ross the advantage.

Mr Cohn, a 57-year-old former Goldman Sachs executive, had lobbied hard against the tariffs before losing out. - REUTERS