US trade team arrives in China to talk tariffs, policy: Here's a look at who they are

The high-level US trade delegation will be comprised of (clockwise from top left) Steven Mnuchin, Robert Lighthizer, Peter Navarro, Larry Kudlow, Wilbur Ross and Terry Branstad.
The high-level US trade delegation will be comprised of (clockwise from top left) Steven Mnuchin, Robert Lighthizer, Peter Navarro, Larry Kudlow, Wilbur Ross and Terry Branstad. PHOTOS: BLOOMBERG, AFP, THE WASHINGTON POST, REUTERS

BEIJING (REUTERS) - A high-level US trade delegation will arrive in Beijing on Thursday morning (May 3) and plans to leave on Friday evening, the US embassy in Beijing said.

The delegation, led by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, will meet Chinese officials for talks on both days, the embassy added.

The Trump administration's seven-man delegation is holding talks to try to stave off a trade war between the world's two largest economies. They have widely divergent views on trade policy and tariffs, which might make it difficult for them to speak with one voice.

The players are seen as likely to give President Donald Trump their individual views on any trade offers from Chinese officials, letting him decide whether to accept them or push ahead with tariffs.

Here is a description of the US team.


The high-level US trade delegation will be led by US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Mnuchin, a former banker, Hollywood film financier and Trump campaign finance manager, holds the top cabinet post overseeing economic and financial regulatory policy.

The ex-Goldman Sachs executive was once viewed as one of the administration's "globalists" allied with former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn in opposition to tariffs. But in recent months, he has voiced strong support for Trump's tougher trade approach to China and steel and aluminium tariffs. The Treasury is now developing US investment restrictions on Chinese companies.


US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testifies before the Senate Finance Committee in Washington, on March 22, 2018. PHOTO: AFP

Lighthizer served as a deputy USTR in the 1980s, using tariff threats to win voluntary export restraints from Japan on autos and steel, earning a reputation as a tough negotiator. The Washington trade lawyer has long expressed views that China has failed to live up to obligations that came with joining the World Trade Organization in 2001.

He led USTR's "Section 301" intellectual property study alleging that China misappropriated US technology, resulting in threatened tariffs on up to US$150 billion (S$200.2 billion) in Chinese goods. Lighthizer said this week that changing the US relationship with China is "a big, big challenge" that would play out over years.


Peter Navarro arrives at the White House for the signing of President Donald Trump's presidential memorandum targeting China's trade policies in Washington, on March 22, 2018. PHOTO: THE WASHINGTON POST

Navarro, a former economics professor at the University of California-Irvine, won notoriety for his controversial book and film, "Death by China". He holds the most hawkish views on Chinese trade policy, and is seen as likely to oppose a short-term agreement that does little to change the course of China's industrial policy.

He recently argued on Fox Business News that the tariffs are designed to compensate the United States for "robbing our technology blind," adding: "If you allow China to basically capture the industries of the future, we won't have a future."


Director of the US National Economic Council Larry Kudlow, gives a thumbs-up as he arrives for a state dinner in at the White House in Washington, on April 24, 2018. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Kudlow is best known as CNBC television's longtime conservative markets and economics commentator, who replaced Gary Cohn as the head of the National Economic Council.

Like Cohn, Kudlow has long been an advocate for free markets and trade, and had frequently criticised Trump's tariff approach. But since taking the job he has referred to tariffs as a negotiating tactic aimed at achieving fairer trade relationships.

Kudlow also has acted to calm uneasy markets by telling White House cameras that a trade war has not started and the tariffs might not take effect.


US Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross speaks at the Milken Institute 21st Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, on May 1, 2018. PHOTO: REUTERS

Ross, the 80-year-old billionaire investor and steel executive, has been a strong advocate of tariffs to level the playing field for US companies. At Commerce, he heads the administration's stepped up anti-dumping enforcement efforts and presided over global steel and aluminium tariffs enacted in March.

But Ross' influence in trade policy has waned somewhat after Trump rejected a deal that Ross had arranged last July during the last major US-China economic dialogue in Washington.


Everett Eissenstat (right) flanks US President Donald Trump as he delivers remarks before signing a memorandum on intellectual property tariffs on high-tech goods from China. PHOTO: REUTERS

Eissenstat serves as the "sherpa" negotiating on behalf of the United States at major international economic gatherings such as the G20 and G7 summits.

A long-time trade hand who once worked at USTR, he was most recently the chief trade lawyer for the Senate Finance Committee, where he helped pass the 2015 "fast track" trade negotiating authority legislation.

Eissenstat briefed reporters on Trump's first US$50 billion in tariffs, saying that China had used technology transfers from US companies "to establish its own competitive advantage in an unfair manner".


US Ambassador to China Terry Branstad speaks at an event to celebrate the re-introduction of American beef imports to China in Beijing, on June 30, 2017. PHOTO: REUTERS

Former Iowa governor Branstad brings to the talks a longstanding relationship with China and a strong perspective on agriculture - a US sector vulnerable to China's threatened tariff retaliation.

Chinese President Xi Jinping, who first met Branstad in 1985 on an agricultural mission to Iowa, has described the ex-governor as "old friend of China" after decades of farm commodities trade. But Branstad has vowed to support Trump's tougher approach to China on trade issues.