Appointment of Peter Navarro as trade advisor shows Trump will be interventionist on trade: Analysts

President-elect Donald Trump's transition team is pondering an early executive action to impose tariffs on foreign imports, according to CNN.
US President-elect Donald Trump has elected economics professor Peter Navarro (centre) as Assistant to the President and Director of Trade and Industrial Policy.
US President-elect Donald Trump has elected economics professor Peter Navarro (centre) as Assistant to the President and Director of Trade and Industrial Policy. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

WASHINGTON - The appointment by US President-elect Donald Trump of economics professor Peter Navarro as Assistant to the President and Director of Trade and Industrial Policy, confirms that the incoming administration will be interventionist on trade, analysts say.

Professor Navarro, 67, who lectures at the University of California in Irvine, is a hawk on China and author of several books including the 2011 Death By China. He is a vocal critic of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) which Mr Trump is set to scrap, going instead for bilateral deals that will yield more benefits to the United States.

Mr Trump has also named billionaire investor Carl Icahn - who has interests in oil refineries - as Special Adviser on Regulatory Reform. In a statement, he called Mr Icahn "one of the world's great businessmen'' who would help on the "strangling regulations'' facing the country.

 The 80-year-old New Yorker, who is an early Trump supporter, has complained about the Environmental Protection Agency's renewable fuels standards, designed to boost biofuels but cut into profits at his oil refineries.

Professor Navarro's book Death By China and a documentary film of the same name, enthusiastically endorsed by Mr Trump, is an account of the loss of the US manufacturing base to China. 

The home page of the book and the film show a dagger plunged bloodily into the heart of the map of the US, while the video shows the text "Where did all the jobs go? They went to China. Is your job next?''

A transition team statement said:  ''He will head a newly created White House National Trade Council (NTC) which further demonstrates the President-elect's determination to make American manufacturing great again and to provide every American the opportunity to work in a decent job at a decent wage.''  

"Navarro is a visionary economist and will develop trade policies that shrink our trade deficit, expand our growth, and help stop the exodus of jobs from our shores.''

"The mission of the National Trade Council will be to advise the President on innovative strategies in trade negotiations, coordinate with other agencies to assess US manufacturing capabilities and the defence industrial base, and help match unemployed American workers with new opportunities in the skilled manufacturing sector. The National Trade Council will also lead the Buy America, Hire America programme," it added.

Dr Navarro has worked closely with Mr Trump's nominee for Commerce Secretary, Mr Wilbur Ross, another billionaire who has made money from investing in distressed steel companies.

"Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will have the prominent position in trade policy, given his stature and ties to Mr Trump,'' Mr Jeffrey J. Schott, an expert on trade at the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington, told The Straits Times.

"Navarro worked closely with Ross during the campaign... His designation - director of trade and industry policy - indicates it is going to be an interventionist policy, using trade to intervene to promote industrial policy objectives,'' he said. 

Mr Trump has threatened to slap tariffs of up to 45 per cent on imports from China. Analysts believe he will start with steel - and worry that the incoming administration's hawkishness towards China could trigger a damaging trade war.

Mr Schott, who supported the TPP and has argued with Dr Navarro over their differing views, cautioned: "He (Navarro) is going to learn things the hard way when he starts dealing with other countries. This is not the university, it's the real world.''

On Wednesday, US website Politico's Morning Trade e-mail bulletin, citing a source in Geneva, reported that China's delegation to the World Trade Organisation (WTO) had been critical of the US at a review meeting.

The report quoted Mr Yu Jianhua, China's permanent representative to the WTO, as saying Mr Trump's campaign threats to pull out of the WTO "has caused serious worries among WTO members regarding the future of the multilateral trading system".