Even Trump is now admitting that US companies like Apple may be shouldering the cost of his China tariffs

Donald TrumpPresident Donald Trump speaks with the media after stepping off Marine One at the White House on Sunday.AP Photo/Alex Brandon

  • The Trump administration gave the public a split-screen view of its approach to tariffs on China Sunday.
  • On Sunday, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro repeated a familiar line about the ongoing US-China trade war, saying China alone is bearing their full cost in a CNN interview.
  • But President Donald Trump veered in the opposite direction to Navarro and said the tariffs may be making it harder for Apple to compete with its rivals.
  • Trump's comments on Apple mark another striking development in his erratic messaging on trade in less than a week.
  • It reflects the escalating pressure the administration is facing from business leaders over fears of a recession and the large hit American businesses are taking. 
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

The Trump administration gave the public a split-screen view of its approach to tariffs on China.

On Sunday, White House trade adviser Peter Navarro repeated a familiar line about the ongoing US-China trade war. He said in a CNN interview on Sunday the tariffs are not impacting American businesses or consumers and China alone is bearing their full cost - despite a mountain of evidence to the contrary.

"They're not hurting anyone here," Navarro said.

But President Donald Trump veered in the opposite direction to his adviser. Speaking with reporters, Trump said he met Apple CEO Tim Cook, who "made a very compelling argument" the administration's tariffs are making it harder for Apple to compete against its rivals.

"It's tough for Apple to pay tariffs if it's competing with a very good company that's not," Trump said.

Up until recently, Trump had repeatedly said China was footing the bill for the tariffs, which have been slapped onto $250 billion worth of Chinese imports. Asked about the partial delay on some of the tariffs last week, Trump said the move was aimed at sparing shoppers during the busy holiday season "just in case" tariffs impacted consumers.

Read more: The Trump administration is starting to publicly recognize the costs of the US-China trade war on Americans

Trump's comments on Apple mark another striking development in his erratic messaging on trade in less than a week, reflecting the escalating pressure the administration is facing from business leaders over fears of a recession and the large hit American businesses are taking. 

Trump has long wielded tariffs as an economic weapon against China, arguing it'll help the US secure a better trade deal. But there are mounting signs the trade war is damaging the US economy.

A new report from the New York Federal Reserve released on Friday found some businesses and manufacturing leaders said the trade war is increasing prices and reducing their profits when compared to a year ago. They expected to pay higher prices for goods they purchase and an increase in the price for the products they sell.

Read more: A new report offers fresh evidence that Trump's trade-war tariffs are hurting the US - even though he says they're not

"All of the U.S. tariffs have been passed to U.S. importers, U.S. retailers, U.S. consumers," Princeton University economist Stephen Redding told NBC News. "Somebody in the US is paying higher prices."

The administration's trade war is already starting to torpedo consumer confidence, with one of its key indexes dropping last month to its lowest level since January. Over a third of respondents cited the latest round of tariffs on China as a source of concern, CBS News reported.

Consumer spending powers around 70% of the American economy. If consumers show further signs of pulling back, then business leaders are likely to ratchet up the heat on Trump even further.

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