Analysts read what Trump's trade picks say
President-elect Donald Trump's nomination on Tuesday of Robert Lighthizer to head the US Trade Representative office, coupled with his previous selection of Peter Navarro to run a newly formed White House trade council, could indicate a more adversarial trade policy toward China, analysts said.
Lighthizer, 69, who was deputy trade representative during the Ronald Reagan administration and now is a Washington attorney, and Navarro, will be part of a team whose task may include challenging trade deals China and Mexico, which Trump has said have taken advantage of the US under current trade pacts.
"(The) appointments of Peter Navarro and Robert Lighthizer clearly indicate that philosophically and rhetorically the Trump administration has tilted towards a more hard-line stance on Chinese trade and NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and away from the traditional Republican adage of free, unfettered trade. It's unclear though where the power lies among these proposed appointees, which office does and implements what, and how these two officials will work with Wilbur Ross (incoming US commerce secretary)," wrote Usha Haley, a professor at West Virginia University who has researched Chinese trade, in an email.
Gary Hufbauer of the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics said the selection of Navarro and Lighthizer "doesn't presage a trade war but almost certainly means trade friction" between China and the US.
"The US will ask China and Mexico to open their markets to US products and services," Hufbauer said in an interview. He added that the US request "will be accompanied by a threat of closing (at least part of) the US market to China and Mexico."
However, Wayne Morrison, a specialist in Asian trade and finance at the Congressional Research Service, said he believes it's too early to tell what the Trump administration's policy on Chinese trade issues will be.
"It's true that the rhetoric on trade, including US-China trade, was particularly harsh during the presidential campaign, but now the incoming administration will need to govern and that usually requires a more pragmatic approach. No doubt the incoming administration will be assessing US trade policies towards China, especially regarding to ongoing trade disputes, to determine if new approaches or policies are warranted. This all will take time," Morrison said in an email.
Baizhu Chen, a professor at the University of Southern California, believes that Lighthizer's appointment, could keep the World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute settlement body busy.