File photo of Steven Mnuchin. Photograph:( Reuters )
Mnuchin said that authority comes from the somewhat obscure International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a federal law passed in 1977.
US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Sunday backed up Donald Trump's assertion that he indeed can force American companies to stop doing business in China, but noted he has yet to do so.
Mnuchin -- who was speaking on "Fox News Sunday" from France, where he was attending the G7 summit with Trump -- said that authority comes from the somewhat obscure International Emergency Economic Powers Act, a federal law passed in 1977.
The law grants the president powers to regulate international trade in the face of an "unusual and extraordinary threat" from abroad to US foreign policy, national security or the economy. But it has never been used to tip the scales in a trade dispute.
"He would have the authority to do that... He has not done that," Mnuchin said.
"I think what he was saying is that he is ordering companies to start looking," he added.
The Trump administration wants US businesses to operate in places where "trading partners respect us and trade with us fairly," Mnuchin added.
On Friday, Trump sounded the alarm just before announcing an escalation in tariffs on Chinese imports.
"Our great American companies are hereby ordered to immediately start looking for an alternative to China, including bringing your companies HOME and making your products in the USA," he said on Twitter.
Top Trump economic aide Larry Kudlow, who was also with the president in France, said the president was within his rights to ban US firms from producing in China, but emphasized: "There's nothing right now in the cards."
"Come back to the USA, where we have very low corporate tax rates and massive deregulation programs," Kudlow said on CNN's "State of the Union."
"Our economy is doing just fine right now, and so come home."
Also on Sunday, Trump himself said on the issue: "I have no plan right now."