Trump’s ”Trade Warrior”
If you listen to the President talk trade these days, nearly everything that comes out of his mouth is exactly what his in-house trade guru, Peter Navarro has been saying for months, years even. Often verbatim. From steel and aluminum imports, to China, to the evil being wrought by the World Trade Organization. This profile of Navarro in Politico foretells nearly everything Trump is doing right now. It’s from last July.
And Navarro himself now also seems to be the person the White House is sending out to defend Trump’s positions on tariffs. Which means, in a White House full of people who seem to be on the “outs” with the President, there’s at least one person who isn’t.
So let’s take a closer look:
Navarro is a trained economist. He has a Ph.D. from Harvard, and was a Professor at Cal Irvine. He also ran for public office several times in California, and lost, mostly as a Democrat.
Legend has it Navarro was hired onto Trump’s team when Jared Kushner found a book he wrote called “Death by China” on Amazon.com and thought that would pique the President’s interest. But we found evidence Trump knew of him way before (perhaps Kushner reminded him). Navarro says he contacted Trump in 2011 after Trump praised one if his earlier books in an interview with Chinese state media. In a fascinating account of that interview, the L.A. Times reports Trump claimed to have read “hundreds of books about China over the decades”, and to “understand the Chinese mind”...
Navarro made a Bannon-like film based on his book, which was largely ridiculed by critics, one writing “it’s the documentary equivalent of a raving street corner derelict”. But its central thesis is one that we happen to agree with at least at least partly: “American companies cannot compete because they’re not competing with Chinese companies, they’re competing with the Chinese government”. Francine LeFrak, daughter of a major New York real estate developer who’s one of Trump’s closest friends and outside advisers, was a producer on Navarro’s film.
Since coming to the White House, Navarro until now has by-and-large stayed out of the spotlight, though it may not have been entirely by choice. Several articles from a month or two ago suggest he had been marginalized; stuck in a small office with just two staffers and his position reshuffled so that he’d now report to Trump’s top economic adviser Gary Cohn, who is a free-trader. Axios went so far as to assert most in the White House “have little respect for him”. Navarro now appears to have circumvented Cohn, and gained the respect of the one person who counts.
If Navarro is as ascendant as he appears to be, that dramatically increases the chances that NAFTA is dead. The trade deal between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico, which Trump hates, continues only because Trump’s Agriculture Secretary Perdue and Commerce Secretary Ross have been able to talk the President out of a hasty departure. Negotiations continue in Mexico today. But if Navarro’s in the President’s ear, it doesn’t portend a bright future for the pact, since he’s probably even more in favor of killing it than Trump, if that’s possible. Two Trump Tweets this morning seem to both confirm Trump’s simmering anti-NAFTA bias and offer a way out:
Except, of course, the President is completely misleading: according to the Trump White House’s own numbers, the U.S. actually runs a trade surplus with Canada. If you separate out services and just look at goods, which maybe is what the President is doing, it then becomes a question of what you consider “large”. Let’s let Navarro define that for us: at a speech we found from last year, he defined a “significant” trade deficit as $15-billion or more. Canada’s less.
Trump’s Tweets also appear to connect the trade deficit with Mexico (which is 5X bigger than Canada) to drugs pouring over the border into the U.S. But illegal drugs are not counted when figuring trade surpluses/deficits. (Maybe they should be, but they’re not).
With that in mind, we leave you with this (from an arts editor at one of Canada’s leading newspapers):
(As you probably know by now, “The Shape of Water” won Best Picture.)