US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said on Saturday he will be pushing China and the EU to agree to a more "balanced" relationship on trade when he meets with finance ministers at the Group of 20 convention in Buenos Aires.
Mnuchin arrived in the Argentine capital at the end of a week in which US President Donald Trump has ramped up his inflammatory remarks and threats with regard global trade.
Trump described China, the EU and Russia as trade "foes" and threatened to hammer the entire $500 billion in goods the US imports from China with punitive tariffs.
"It is definitely a realistic possibility so I wouldn't minimize the possibility. We've been very clear with our objectives," Mnuchin told reporters ahead of the start of the two-day G20 summit amongst finance ministers and central bankers from the world's 20 leading economies.
"We share a desire to have a more balanced relationship and the balanced relationship is by us selling more goods (to China)."
The US trade in goods deficit with China stood at almost $376 billion in 2017.
- 'Tremendous opportunity' -
"Although the objective is to cut the trade deficit, the desire to do that is for them to open up their markets so we can compete fairly and increase our exports," he said.
"I think it's a tremendous opportunity for us and a tremendous opportunity for China.
"China has a large, growing population that will consume more products and that likes American products."
He pointed to energy, agriculture and technology as areas in which the US could boost its Chinese presence.
But Mnuchin said joint ventures were a major stumbling block between the two countries, particularly when it comes to technology, stating that other than in certain "security" related cases, "companies are free to do business in the US without setting up joint ventures."
He added: "They're very interested in technology and we're pleased for them to have our technology companies there as long as they do it in a way that our technology companies don't in any way feel the pressure to form joint ventures or transfer technology.
"There's a very large, growing opportunity, if we can reach agreement, that is good for China, good for their economy and good for US companies."
- Message to EU -
As for the EU, Mnuchin said it would have to make considerable concessions in order for there to be a free-trade agreement between the two.
"My message is pretty clear, it's the same message the president delivered at the G7: if Europe believes in free trade, we're ready to sign a free trade agreement with no tariffs, no tariff barriers and no subsidies. It has to be all three."
The Treasury Secretary also spoke of current and possible future trade sanctions, mentioning North Korea, Iran, Venezuela and Nicaragua.
Despite Trump's landmark meeting with North Korean supremo Kim Jong-un in Singapore last month that saw a significant thawing in previously explosive ties, a softening of sanctions isn't on the table.
"We're pleased with the dialogue but there will not be sanctions relief until there is real progress," Mnuchin said.
He acknowledged that the US and EU "don't see eye to eye on every single aspect" of the Iran nuclear deal but insisted there's a "consistent view that Iran should never have nuclear weapons" and that they should be prevented from exporting "terrorism" to the Middle East.
He said the repression in crisis hit Venezuela by the government of President Nicolas Maduro was "unacceptable" and that US sanctions targeting those in power were to "encourage better behavior."
Further sanctions could also be heading Nicaragua's way after three months of unrest in which more than 280 people have been killed as protests escalate against the ironfisted rule of President Daniel Ortega.
"It's a reasonable guess that (sanctions are) something we'd be looking at," said Mnuchin.