Trump says he's prepared to slap tariffs on all $500B in Chinese imports to U.S.

President Donald Trump said he’s prepared to impose tariffs on all $505 billion in goods that China imports into the U.S. if the trade war he ignited escalates.

“I’m ready to go 500,” Trump told CNBC’s Joe Kernan in an interview that aired Friday on the network’s "Squawk Box" program.

Trump has slapped tariffs on $34 billion in Chinese goods and threatened another $416 billion in duties.

Citing the $375 billion trade deficit the U.S. runs with China, as well as large gaps with other countries, Trump said, “They are taking advantage of us … We have been ripped off by China for a long time.”

The president said Chinese officials told him “nobody (in past U.S. administrations) would ever complain until you came along – me. They said, ‘Now you’re more than complaining. We don’t like what you’re doing.' ”

Trump also complained about the tit-for-tat counter-tariffs China has imposed on U.S. shipments to that country. “I raised 50 (billion dollars in tariffs) and (China) matched it. You don’t match it because otherwise we’ll always be behind.” He cited the $375 billion U.S. trade deficit with China.

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Trump also addressed the criticism and market fallout his take-no-prisoners approach on trade has generated.

President Donald Trump

“I would have a much easier life if I were to do it incorrectly,” Trump said. Noting that stock markets are up about 40 percent since he was elected, Trump said, “it could be up 80 percent” if he hadn’t started the trade skirmishes. “I’m not doing this for politics. I’m doing this to do the right thing for our country.”

The escalating trade fights with China as well as Canada, the European Union and Mexico would reduce economic growth by more than a half-percentage point and employment by hundreds of thousands if all the duties and retaliatory measures are imposed, economists have said.

Trump also touted his administration’s new workers council that's set to train workers and help create 3.7 million jobs.

“We have tremendous numbers of people who really are phenomenal in every way, but they’re not trained and are not qualified,” Trump said. “We need people who are skilled. We need people who are trained. It’s much different than it was 30 years ago and 40 years ago."

Trump signed an executive order Thursday creating the National Council for the American Worker to improve worker training and education. General Motors, Home Depot, Microsoft and Walmart were among the companies and groups signing a pledge to create jobs over the next five years. Trump added the training is necessary because “companies are pouring back into our country.”

About 200 American companies last year announced they’ll move at least some production to the U.S. from overseas, generating nearly 80,000 jobs, up from about 50,000 such jobs in 2016 and the largest number on record, according to the Reshoring Initiative, which tracks the announcements.

Trump specifically mentioned Fiat Chrysler, which said earlier this year that it plans to move some production from Mexico to the Detroit area, adding 2,500 jobs.

Yet in a report out this week, consulting firm A.T. Kearney said imports from the USA’s 14 largest local cost-cost trading partners rose by $55 billion, or 8 percent, last year, the biggest jump since 2011. And the increase is solidly outpacing the growth of US manufacturing output, the study said.

Of the economy broadly, Trump said, “I think it might be as good as it’s ever been – ever.”

The economy is expected to grow close to 3 percent this year. That could be the best performance since the recession but would fall short of the 4 to 5 percent gains during parts of the mid-2000s and 1990s. Growth is expected to slow next year, and many economists are forecasting a recession in 2020.

The interview made headlines Thursday when CNBC reported that Trump broke with tradition and criticized the Federal Reserve for raising interest rates.