Incoming administration's trade picks: A troika of protectionists and China sceptics

Mr Ross is a critic of China's entry to the WTO, which he said "opened America's markets to a flood of illegally subsidised Chinese imports".
Mr Ross is a critic of China's entry to the WTO, which he said "opened America's markets to a flood of illegally subsidised Chinese imports".
Dr Navarro supports the idea of levying steep tariffs on imports from China, which he has accused of "waging an undeclared trade war on the US".
Dr Navarro supports the idea of levying steep tariffs on imports from China, which he has accused of "waging an undeclared trade war on the US".
Mr Lighthizer wrote in 2008 that unbridled free trade was helping China become a superpower, and America had been "bowing to the whims of anti-American bureaucrats at the World Trade Organisation".
Mr Lighthizer wrote in 2008 that unbridled free trade was helping China become a superpower, and America had been "bowing to the whims of anti-American bureaucrats at the World Trade Organisation".

WILBUR ROSS, 79

The Commerce Secretary-designate was estimated by Forbes to have a net worth of US$2.9 billion (S$4.2 billion) last year - and at one time reportedly controlled 1.2 billion tonnes of coal reserves.

The New Jersey native has been called the "King of Bankruptcy" and a "vulture investor" for his success in buying and rehabilitating distressed steel mines and coal companies and then selling them at a profit.

As a bankruptcy specialist at Rothschild & Co, he helped Mr Trump salvage his personal finances from his troubled Atlantic City casino empire in the 1990s.

Mr Ross endorsed Mr Trump in mid-2016, telling CNBC: "We need a more radical, new approach to government... from what we've had before."

 

He added: "I think the reason why the Trump phenomenon has become so important… is because middle-class and lower middle-class America has not really benefited (from) the last 10 to 15 years of economic activity and they're sick and tired of it and they want something different."

Mr Ross has also been a protectionist critic of the US' trade policy as it relates to China.

 China's entry to the World Trade Organisation "opened America's markets to a flood of illegally subsidised Chinese imports, thereby creating massive and chronic trade deficits", he said in a paper that he co-authored with Dr Peter Navarro late last year.

He added that it "rapidly accelerated the offshoring of America's factories and a concomitant decline in US domestic business investment as a percentage of our economy".

 But Mr Ross's views, like the man, are not one-dimensional. He is an aficionado of Chinese culture and art, has had business interests in China and admires the Chinese government's muscular, interventionist economic management.

Mr Ross is on the board of trustees of the Brookings Institution, one of America's oldest think-tanks. Those who know him well say Mr Ross may be a moderating influence on the hawkish Dr Navarro.

Nirmal Ghosh


PETER NAVARRO, 67


Dr Navarro supports the idea of levying steep tariffs on imports from China, which he has accused of "waging an undeclared trade war on the US". PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

In the introduction to his documentary film, Death By China, economist Peter Navarro implores viewers: "Please, help defend America and protect your family. Don't buy made in China."

His 2013 film talks of "weapons of jobs destruction", or how China's growth came at the cost of American jobs. The homepage of a website for his book and film shows a dagger plunged bloodily into a map of the US, with the text: "Where did all the jobs go? They went to China. Is your job next?"

Dr Navarro, who lectures at the University of California in Irvine, will soon head a newly created White House National Trade Council.

He is a vocal critic of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) that Mr Trump has said he will scrap. Dr Navarro prefers bilateral deals that will yield more benefit to the US.

In an op-ed in the Los Angeles Times in July, Dr Navarro, who has likened China to a python slowly engulfing the region and surrounding Taiwan, supported the idea of a 45 per cent tariff on Chinese imports.

"China has been waging an undeclared trade war on the US since joining the World Trade Organisation in 2001," he claimed. "The casualties are obvious: More than 50,000 American factories shuttered."

 He added that for Mr Trump, "steep tariffs are a strategic negotiating strategy to stop China, or any other country, from cheating on international trade deals".

In a later interview, he told the Los Angeles Times: "Tariffs are not the endgame. Tariffs are a negotiating tool."

The Trump transition team has called Dr Navarro a "visionary economist" who will "develop trade policies that shrink our trade deficit, expand our growth and help stop the exodus of jobs from our shores".

Nirmal Ghosh


ROBERT LIGHTHIZER, 69


Mr Lighthizer wrote in 2008 that unbridled free trade was helping China become a superpower, and America had been "bowing to the whims of anti-American bureaucrats at the World Trade Organisation".

The US Trade Representative-designate served as a deputy trade representative in the Ronald Reagan administration in the 1980s when the Republican president was at his most protectionist and Japan was considered the primary threat to US economic dominance. In the 30 years since, the Ohio native has practised international trade law at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom.

Mr Lighthizer shares President-elect Donald Trump's view that US workers have been hurt by free trade agreements like Nafta, and that imports should be taxed to protect American industry.

In a commentary in 2008 in the New York Times, he wrote that unbridled free trade was helping China become a superpower, and that America had been "bowing to the whims of anti-American bureaucrats at the World Trade Organisation".

"He will do an amazing job helping turn around the failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity," Mr Trump said of Mr Lighthizer's nomination last Tuesday.

In 2011 in the Washington Post, Mr Lighthizer wrote that China has used "currency manipulation, subsidies, theft of intellectual property and dozens of other forms of state-sponsored, government- organised unfair trade to run up a more than US$270 billion (S$388 billion) trade surplus with us and to take US jobs".

As Mr Trump was considering a run in the 2012 presidential election, Mr Lighthizer added: "(Is)  free trade really making global markets more efficient? Is it promoting our values and making America stronger? Or is it simply strengthening our adversaries and creating a world where countries who abuse the system - such as China - are on the road to economic and military dominance?

"If Mr Trump's potential campaign does nothing more than force a real debate on those questions, it will have done a service to both the Republican Party and the country."

Nirmal Ghosh

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 09, 2017, with the headline 'Incoming administration's trade picks: A troika of protectionists and China sceptics'. Print Edition | Subscribe