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Trump’s trade team suggests his tough campaign talk was no bluff

WASHINGTON — The makeup of President-elect Donald Trump’s trade team suggests he wasn’t joking when he promised voters to shake things up.

On the campaign trail, Trump portrayed an America that has been shortchanged by bad trade deals and unscrupulous trading partners, leading to the hollowing out of the nation’s manufacturing sector. He promised to label China a currency manipulator and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.

Since the election, Trump has taken aim at individual companies, warning General Motors Co. this week that it could face a “big border tax” if it doesn’t shift production to the U.S. from Mexico. And the track records of his top trade officials signal that his administration will take aggressive steps to boost exports, according to trade experts.

“It’s clear this wasn’t just campaign rhetoric. The team that the president-elect has put in place was at the core of advising him during the campaign and has a clear playbook of what it wants to implement,” said Mark Wu, an assistant professor at Harvard Law School who worked in the office of the U.S. trade representative under George Bush. “They’ve been pretty straightforward about their view of the status quo, which is that it undermines American economic interests.”

Chinese state media have already criticized all three key players in Trump’s trade team as supporters of rolling back globalization, warning the incoming administration about the risks of sparking a trade war.

Robert Lighthizer, appointee for U.S. trade representative

Trump this week nominated Lighthizer as his chief trade negotiator. Lighthizer, 69, was deputy trade representative under Ronald Reagan, and is now a partner in the Washington offices of law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP. He has extensive experience representing the U.S. steel industry, which has frequently accused China of dumping cheap products in world markets. In a 2011 article published in The Washington Times, Lighthizer said that using tariffs to promote American industry was a Republican tenet harking back to the party’s roots. “How does allowing China to constantly rig trade in its favor advance the core conservative goal of making markets more efficient?” he wrote. He’ll face Senate confirmation.

Wilbur Ross, Commerce secretary nominee

Ross, 79, is a veteran private-equity investor who has served on the board of companies ranging from Luxembourg-based steel giant ArcelorMittal to the Bank of Ireland. He also happens to be an avid collector of Chinese art, according to a recent profile in Politico Magazine. Before the election, Ross decried what he perceived to be a penchant toward China bashing in the U.S. But during the campaign, he co-authored an unflattering report that described the world as “riddled with trade cheaters,” with China the biggest culprit. The Senate must approve his appointment.

Peter Navarro, head of White House National Trade Council

Ross’s co-author on that report was Navarro, an economics professor at University of California, Irvine who has been a vocal critic of China’s trade practices. As the head of a newly formed trade council inside the White House, Navarro will be an influential voice on everything from how the U.S. deals with China to the way it taxes its corporations. Navarro, 67, has blamed the North American Free Trade Agreement and China’s 2001 entry into the WTO for hobbling the U.S. economy. He directed a documentary called “Death By China: One Lost Job At a Time” based on a book he co-authored.

“They see trade as a zero-sum game,” said Daniel Ikenson, director of trade policy studies at the Cato Institute, a free-market think tank in Washington. “It’s Team America against the foreign team, with exports as Team America’s points and imports as the foreign team’s points.”

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  • For someone who was elected because he was not a “politician”, the don sure is turning out to be every bit one. He started waffling on his campaign promises, even before being elected, and continued that trend since then. Whether it’s health care, the US Mexican border or a number of other issues, he is flip flopping. Congratulations all those that voted him in. You have succeeded in creating another one; only this one has the potential to really mess things up domestically and internationally.

    • Feigning shock over a candidate’s failure to deliver on campaign promises even before he’s assumed office is a disingenuous attack, as countless officials since elections have been held have routinely demonstrated the exact same lack of follow through.
      This article touches on some key concerns Trump has expressed since day one, and confirms his commitment to addressing them. Whether or not opposing globalization will work in the long run is the bigger issue here, as isolationism has never worked before and seemingly has little chance of success in an ever shrinking world. But Trump’s overall message clearly resonated with a declining electorate, and we’re about to see what he can accomplish. At a minimum, at least he seems to be assembling a team well qualified to move forward in this area.

  • I thank God WeThePeople have spoken and now on January 20th a REAL POTUS & First Family will be taking command and Making America Great Again…domestically & internationally…rather than another crooked 30+ year elite like Crooked Nasty Corrupt hiLIARy who should be in jail.
    P.E. Trump will bring back the RESPECT that we lost from the Community Organizer who would not passed a Security clearance to begin with.
    WeThePeople righted the floundering sinking ship.


  • Bad advice… I would not be surprised if we may lose influence and credibility in international trade under Trump.

    Of course, as long as his hotels in China and elsewhere remain opne, what does he care?

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