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After two years of assailing his predecessors for putting Chinese workers before Americans, President Trump today said he is directing his administration to reverse the effective shutdown of ZTE in order to save Chinese jobs.

The big picture: The Commerce Department banned American companies from selling parts to ZTE for seven years because the Chinese company violated U.S. sanctions by selling equipment made with American parts to Iran and North Korea. As a result of the sanctions, ZTE halted operations last week. Now, Trump says he's working with Chinese President Xi Jinping to save the Chinese phone maker.

Yes, but: Trump's move to help ZTE — an Iran sanctions violator — comes as his administration is contemplating sanctioning European companies that do business with Iran. National Security Adviser John Bolton told CNN's Jake Tapper Sunday that action against U.S. allies is "possible."

Be smart, via Axios contributor Bill Bishop:

  • A reprieve for ZTE is clearly a U.S. concession, and we do not yet know what Trump got in return. The ZTE episode has only reinforced China’s fears about its excessive reliance on U.S. technology and its determination to accelerate efforts to achieve indigenous technology independence.
  • Trump’s willingness to accede to Xi’s request for leniency towards ZTE — a firm caught repeatedly violating U.S. law — may also signal an increased likelihood of a U.S.–China deal to diffuse the current trade tensions, but expect this to be only a brief ceasefire in the growing Sino–U.S. tech rivalry

Go deeper: ZTE sanctions might strengthen Chinese tech

Go deeper

Dan Primack, author of Pro Rata
1 hour ago - Economy & Business

Trump blocks banks from limiting loans to gun and oil companies

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Big banks are no longer allowed to reject business loan applicants because of the industry in which they operate, according to a new rule finalized on Thursday by the Trump administration.

Why it matters: Wall Street has curtailed its exposure to industries like guns, oil and private prisons, driven by both public and shareholder pressures. This new rule could reverse that trend.

Former FDA commissioner: "Reliable drug supply is absolutely critical"

Axios' Caitlin Owens and former FDA commissioner Mark McClellan. Photo courtesy of Axios Events

Having a reliable supply of pharmaceutical drugs throughout America will be "absolutely critical" to boosting affordability in health care during the Biden administration, former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner Mark McClellan said at a virtual Axios Event on Friday.

The big picture: McClellan, who served under President George W. Bush, says drugs having limited supply and limited competition leads to elevated pricing. He considers drug supply to be a national security and public health issue.

Felix Salmon, author of Capital
4 hours ago - Economy & Business

Americans are still spending money

Source: Census Bureau; Chart: Axios Visuals

Americans spent more money at stores and restaurants in 2020 than they did in 2019 — even in the face of a devastating global pandemic that shut down broad sectors of the economy.

Why it matters: The monthly retail sales report this morning came in well below expectations, and showed consumer spending falling on a seasonally-adjusted basis. Total expenditures were still higher in December 2020 than they were a year previously, however.