President Trump contradicted his U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer during a televised Oval Office meeting on Friday as he attempted to explain the meaning of a “memorandum of understanding,” or MOU, leading to a top Chinese official laughing out loud during the tense exchange.
The president, Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin were among those in attendance for the discussion with a Chinese trade delegation about how long memorandums of understanding would last in a trade deal.
The Hill notes that MOUs have been drafted on issues such as agriculture, currency and intellectual property as a broader agreement is hashed out.
Trump told reporters they would “be very short term. I don’t like MOUs because they don’t mean anything. To me, they don’t mean anything.”
“An MOU is a binding agreement between two people,” Lighthizer responded. “It’s detailed. It covers everything in great detail. It’s a legal term. It’s a contract.”
“By the way I disagree,” Trump fired back. “We’re doing a memorandum of understanding that will be put into a final contract, I assume. But to me, the final contract is really the thing Bob, and I think you mean that too, is really the thing that means something. A memorandum of understanding is exactly that, it’s a memorandum of what our understanding is.”
“The real question is, Bob … how long will it take to put that into a final binding contract?”
— Bloomberg Economics (@economics) February 23, 2019
“From now on, we’re not using the word ‘memorandum of understanding’ anymore,” Lighthizer said. “We’re going to use the term ‘trade agreement’ … We’re never going to use MOU again.”
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He laughed as the exchange carried on.
Chinese Vice Premier Liu He laughs, when Pres Trump tells his Trade Rep Robert Lighthizer that he disagrees with the use of Memorandums of Understanding in trade deals. Lighthizer gets the message and says they won't use that term anymore. pic.twitter.com/GLqXUhP9uS
— Mark Knoller (@markknoller) February 22, 2019