Mon, Mar 12, 2018 - Page 7 News List

Trump’s trade warrior: A china expert reviled by China experts

By Peter Coy  /  Bloomberg

US President Donald Trump’s nationalist trade adviser, White House National Trade Council Director Peter Navarro, has staged a startling comeback.

Last year, he nearly disappeared from view when his small operation was subsumed under the White House’s National Economic Council, headed by his rival, Gary Cohn, the free-trader who was president of Goldman Sachs.

Now, Cohn is on his way out, while the steel and aluminum tariffs that Navarro advocates have become national policy.

He might even take over Cohn’s job.

It “absolutely” could happen, said Harry Kazianis, a friend of Navarro who is director of defense studies at the Center for the National Interest. “Trump’s going to look to Peter and say: ‘I know this guy. I can trust him.’”

One factor behind Navarro’s surprising resurrection is that Trump has this year taken renewed interest in trade and national security — Navarro’s issues — after last year having focused on healthcare and tax cuts.

The second factor is that Navarro is as relentless as a honey badger. He was last week repeatedly in front of television cameras championing the tariffs, which Trump signed on Thursday.

After losing to Cohn in the White House turf wars, someone else might have packed up and gone home to California. Instead, Navarro kept working the issues and building the case for stronger action.

Even now he is not letting up, said Michael Wessel, a steelworker representative who speaks with him regularly.

“He is certainly excited about where he is and what’s going on, because he has worked a long time to get here, but he’s running at warp speed and probably doesn’t have much time to think about it,” Wessel said.

Free-trade supporters are elbowing each other aside to express their dismay about Navarro’s ascendancy — and Navarro welcomes their disdain. Although he holds a doctorate in economics from Harvard University and taught the subject at the University of California-Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business, Navarro accuses his fellow economists of blindly adhering to free-trade principles at the expense of national security.

“The president said very clearly that we can’t have a country without steel and aluminum industries, and I totally agree with him,” Navarro told Bloomberg TV on Wednesday last week.

Echoing Trump, he added: “All the countries that trade with us are getting the better part of the deal.”

He also said he is not on the list of candidates to replace Cohn.

Today’s Navarro has a monkish demeanor. He is wiry, almost gaunt. Running shoes by the door of his office attest to his habit of running to work. He works such long hours that he stifled a laugh when a Bloomberg TV interviewer asked him about his “day” job. His closest administration ally is US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross, a fellow trade nationalist.

Navarro’s not-so-secret weapon in the White House turf wars is that he has a lot in common with the president. They are about the same age: Navarro is 68 and Trump 71, and neither backs down from a fight.

“Peter has always been a contrarian, someone who’s never been afraid to defend his views vociferously,” Alliance for American Manufacturing president Scott Paul said.

Most importantly, both Navarro and Trump are former Democrats who feel no compunction to stick to Republican orthodoxy on trade.

Navarro was actually a kind of liberal once. He served in the Peace Corps, surfed and later campaigned against uncontrolled real-estate development in the race for mayor of San Diego in 1992 — ironic now that he is working for the world’s most famous developer.

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