Peter Navarro, an economist, professor of business, and outspoken critic of China's economic policies, was appointed by Donald Trump on December 21, 2016 to head the National Trade Council, newly set up by the Trump administration. Navarro's positions as Assistant to the President and Director of Trade and Industrial Policy are not subject to Senate confirmation. 

Peter Navarro's Background

Navarro, 67, graduated from Tufts University in 1972, joining the Peace Corps in Thailand for three years before earning an MBA in 1979 and a PhD. in Economics in 1986 from Harvard. For more than 20 years, he has been Professor of Economics and Public Policy at The Paul Merage School of Business, University of California-Irvine. As the only academic among Trump's billionaire advisers, Navarro has no experience working in government, and has found little success in running for office. He ran for mayor of San Diego in 1992, ran again for the House of Representatives four years later, and last campaigned for the San Diego city council in 2001. 

Navarro dedicated years of research to economic forecasts and the geopolitical landscape for businesses and institutions. According to his personal website, in addition to his professorship, he has worked as a corporate trainer for clients such as Marriott, Wells Fargo Partners, John Hancock, Lima Peru Chamber of Commerce, and the FBI. He has appeared on major media outlets, including Bloomberg TV, BBC, CNN, CNBC, and 60 Minutes. Navarro has also published multiple books on business, management, and the markets, such as The Well Timed StrategyWhen the Market Moves, Will You Be Ready? and What the Best MBAs Know.

According to The New York Times, in the early 2000s China's growing prominence as a global economic power piqued Navarro's research interest. He spotted a trend: the job prospects of business school graduates at Irvine were becoming increasingly hurt by globalization. Since then, he has written extensively about China. His latest bestseller, Crouching Tiger: What China's Militarism Means for the World, was published in 2016. Among his books on China, Death by China: Confronting the Dragon – A Global Call to Action has received the most attention, and was made into a documentary in 2012. (See also: Under Trump Will China or Mexico Fare Better?)

Navarro has argued that China is "waging an economic war" through export subsidies, import restrictions, and currency manipulations. According to The New York Times, in 2011 Navarro wrote a letter to Trump about Death by China. His criticism of China eventually helped him land a job in the Trump administration. Before that, during the 2016 presidential election, Navarro served as the Republican candidate's campaign adviser on economic issues.

As reported by The New York Times, in a statement, Trump called 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". Trump has threatened to impose a tariff as high as 45% on Chinese imports if Beijing refuses to alter existing trade and manufacturing policies deemed unfair to the U.S. 

Navarro's appointment underscored a rift among Trump's economic advisers, dividing them into those who support free trade and those who oppose it. Navarro and Wilbur Ross, who will oversee trade, push for trade restrictions, while the broader team of advisers, which initially included Carl Icahn, Gary Cohn, Rex Tillerson, and Terry Branstad, strongly advocated free trade. 

Steel and Aluminum Tariffs

On March 1, 2018, Trump announced that the U.S. would impose tariffs of 25% on steel imports and 10% on imports of aluminum. Early reports framed the tariffs as being aimed at China, and the announcement earned a speedy rebuke from Chinese officials, who accused the Trump administration of violating World Trade Organization (WTO) rules.

The real outrage came from Ottawa and Brussels, however, which threatened to retaliate. European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker proposed slapping tariffs on blue jeans, motorcycles, and bourbon. According to IHS Global Atlas, China is not among the top 10 sources of U.S. steel imports by volume. The honor of being the largest source of steel imports goes to Canada, which provides 16% of the U.S.'s total steel imports. Responding to claims that the tariffs would harm U.S. industries and consumers, Navarro told Fox, "There are no downstream price effects on our industries that are significant." He added that effects on consumer prices would amount to a couple of cents on "a six-pack of beer or Coke."

On March 5 2018, Trump tweeted that the proposed tariffs would "come off if a new & fair NAFTA agreement is signed," referencing U.S. trade deficits with Canada and Mexico (including services, the trade balance with Canada is positive), flows of drugs from Mexico, and Canada's treatment of U.S. agricultural exports.

Want to learn how to invest?

Get a free 10 week email series that will teach you how to start investing.

Delivered twice a week, straight to your inbox.