US president Donald Trump says the country’s trade deal with China is now of secondary importance to the COVID-19 pandemic and has threatened new tariffs against Beijing in retaliation over the outbreak, Reuters reported on 30 April.

In an effort to avoid a damaging trade war, Trump signed the first phase of a multibillion-dollar trade deal with China in January that cut some US tariffs on Chinese goods in exchange for Chinese pledges to buy more US farm and energy goods, including soyabeans, and address some US complaints about intellectual property practices.

However, Reuters reported that Trump had made clear that his concerns about China’s role in the origin and spread of COVID-19 had taken priority over his efforts to build on the initial trade agreement with Beijing.

“We signed a trade deal where they’re supposed to buy, and they’ve been buying a lot, actually. But that now becomes secondary to what took place with the virus,” Trump told reporters. “The virus situation is just not acceptable.”

Trump said on 3 May that he believed a “mistake” in China was the cause of COVID-19, hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said there was “a significant amount of evidence” to suggest that the virus emerged from a Chinese laboratory in Wuhan, CNBC reported.

The president is eager to scapegoat China for a pandemic that has infected more than 1.1M Americans, killed more than 68,000 and left more than 30M jobless, ahead of presidential elections in November, according to the Washington Post.

Two US officials, speaking anonymously to Reuters, said a range of options against China were under discussion. Recommendations had not yet reached the level of Trump’s top national security team or the president, one of the officials said.

Meanwhile, citing two people with knowledge of internal discussions, the Washington Post also that some officials had discussed the idea of cancelling some of the massive US debt held by China as a means of retaliation for Beijing’s lack of openness on the COVID-19 pandemic.