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Trade Poised to be Key Priority for Incoming Trump Administration

Thursday, December 29, 2016
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

President-elect Donald Trump vowed on the campaign trail to make some significant changes to U.S. trade policy, and several recent developments appear to be consistent with that pledge.

One key development is the announcement of a new National Trade Council that, according to a statement from Trump’s transition team, will “advise the President on innovative strategies in trade negotiations, coordinate with other agencies to assess U.S. manufacturing capabilities and the defense industrial base, and help match unemployed American workers with new opportunities in the skilled manufacturing sector.” The NTC will also lead the Buy America, Hire America program and work with the National Security Council, the National Economic Council, and the Domestic Policy Council to think “strategically about the health of America's defense industrial base and the role of trade and manufacturing in national security.”

Trump’s choice to lead the NTC is Peter Navarro, an economics professor at the University of California Irvine who co-authored an economic blueprint for Trump along with Wilbur Ross, the billionaire businessman tapped to lead the Department of Commerce. A news release from the transition team said that in this role Navarro “will develop trade policies that shrink our trade deficit, expand our growth, and help stop the exodus of jobs from our shores.”

Trump has also selected Jason Greenblatt, who is currently chief legal officer of the Trump Organization and someone Trump said “has a history of negotiating substantial, complex transactions” as well as “the expertise to bring parties together and build consensus on difficult and sensitive topics,” to serve as a special representative for international negotiations. Trump said that in his role Greenblatt will assist on “international negotiations of all types and trade deals around the world.”

Trump has yet to name a U.S. trade representative, though a number of potential nominees have been mentioned. These include former Rep. Charles Boustany, former UPS executive and deputy administrator of the Small Business Administration Jovita Carranza, former steel company CEO Dan DiMicco, and former deputy USTR Robert Lighthizer. Trump transition team spokesman Jason Miller said “whoever ultimately gets named as U.S. trade rep will be someone who really fits with” Navarro and Ross.

It is unclear at this point how these individuals and organizations will work together to formulate and implement trade policy in the Trump administration. Miller said that Ross “will ultimately direct much of the administration’s trade policy” but that details are still being worked out. While Miller added that USTR will remain in independent agency, the creation of the NTC and the naming of Greenblatt suggest that its influence could be diminished.

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