WASHINGTON, Dec. 21, 2016 - Peter Navarro, an outspoken critic of China and U.S. trade policy who advised President-elect Donald Trump during his campaign, will lead a newly established National Trade Council in the White House.
Navarro’s criticism of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other aspects of trade policy is in line with Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary, private-equity investor Wilbur Ross, who a transition spokesman said this week would play a major role in directing Trump’s trade agenda.
A statement issued by the Trump transition team said that Navarro's council would work with other federal agencies to “assess U.S. manufacturing capabilities and the defense industrial base” and lead Trump’s “Buy America, Hire America program to ensure the President-elect’s promise is fulfilled in government procurement and projects ranging from infrastructure to national defense.”
“I read one of Peter’s books on America’s trade problems years ago and was impressed by the clarity of his arguments and thoroughness of his research," Trump said of Navaro.
"He has presciently documented the harms inflicted by globalism on American workers, and laid out a path forward to restore our middle class. He will fulfill an essential role in my administration as a trade advisor.”
Navarro, who teaches economics at the University of California, Irvine, is the author of “Death by China,” a book strongly critical of the Asian nation. The former Democrat ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1996 and spoke at the Democratic national convention that year.
In a joint Wall Street Journal op-ed on Oct. 25, Navarro and Ross pushed back at critics of Trump’s trade policy who said he was risking a trade war. “This is an alarmist misread of the bargaining table in trade negotiations.
"Most of America’s $766 billion annual trade deficit in goods is with a few countries, all of which need our markets far more than we need theirs, including China, Germany, Japan, Mexico and South Korea.”
Navarro and Ross argued that a 10 percent “change in the mix of U.S. international trade could eliminate that deficit, through smart, tough negotiations. As the biggest market in the world, we have all the leverage. No one makes better deals than Mr. Trump."
In a Foreign Policy article on the eve of the election, Navarro and another Trump adviser, Alexander Gray, said Trump would “never again sacrifice the U.S. economy on the altar of foreign policy by entering into bad trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement, allowing China into the World Trade Organization, and passing the proposed TPP.”
USDA economists have warned that Trump’s election has “introduced an element of uncertainty” for U.S. agricultural exports because of the importance of China and Mexico to American farmers.
China is expected to be the top foreign market for U.S. agriculture in fiscal 2017, followed by Canada and Mexico. China alone is expected to import $21.8 billion in U.S. commodities, including 60 percent of U.S. soybean exports. Agribusiness interests have been at least somewhat encouraged by Trump's selection of Iowa Gov. Terry Branstad to be ambassador to China.
Trump has yet to name a U.S. Trade Representative, although at least three people are believed to be under consideration, including Jovita Carranza, a former deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration who now runs a business consulting firm, the JCR Group.
Trump also has interviewed two members of his USTR transition team, former steel executive Dan DiMicco and Robert Lighthizer, a trade lawyer who was a deputy U.S. trade representative during the Reagan administration. Lighthizer specializes in anti-dumping and countervailing duty cases.
Trump spokesman Jason Miller said Tuesday that there was no plan to merge USTR into Commerce but that there were still details about the relationship between the two agencies to work out. USTR would continue to have its normal functions, Miller said, but Ross “will ultimately direct much of the administration's trade policy at the direction of President-elect Trump.”
One former top official at USTR under a GOP administration said that the agency “is being downgraded, and may be downgraded a very long way.”