NEW HAVEN – During his campaign, US President-elect Donald Trump used foreign trade as a lightning rod in his supposed defense of the beleaguered American middle class. This is not an uncommon tactic for candidates at either end of the political spectrum. What is unusual is that Trump has not moderated his anti-trade tone since winning. Instead, he has upped the ante and fired a series of early warning shots in what could turn into a full-blown global trade war, with disastrous consequences for the United States and the rest of the world.
Consider Trump’s key personnel decisions. Industrialist Wilbur Ross, the Commerce Secretary-designate, has been vocal in his desire to abrogate America’s “dumb” trade deals. Peter Navarro, an economics professor at the University of California at Irvine, will be the director of the National Trade Council – a new White House policy shop to be set up on a par with the National Security Council and the National Economic Council. Navarro is one of America’s most extreme China hawks. The titles of his two most recent books – Death by China (2011) and Crouching Tiger: What China’s Militarism Means for the World (2015) – speak volumes about his tabloid-level biases.
Ross and Navarro were also co-authors of an economic-policy position paper published on the Trump campaign website that stretched any semblance of credibility. Now they will get the opportunity to put their ideas into practice. And, in fact, the process has already begun.
Trump has made it clear that he will immediately withdraw the US from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) – in keeping with Ross’s criticism of America’s trade deals. And his brazen willingness to challenge the 40-year-old “One China” policy by speaking directly with Taiwanese President Tsai Ing-wen – to say nothing of his subsequent anti-China tweets – leaves little doubt that his administration will follow Navarro’s prescription and take dead aim at America’s largest and most powerful trading partner.