Who Is Peter Navarro? He Said There’s a ‘Special Place in Hell’ for Trudeau
Posted June 11, 2018 11:49 p.m. EDT
Peter Navarro, one of President Donald Trump’s top trade advisers, leaned into Trump’s trade fight with Canada, telling "Fox News Sunday" that there was a “special place in hell” for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of Canada.
Navarro, echoing Trump’s fiery language in the wake of a fractious Group of 7 summit meeting, said that “weak, dishonest Justin Trudeau” tried to “stab” the president in the back.
Trump dispensed with global economic diplomacy late Saturday when he refused to sign a joint statement with the United States’ allies, threatening to escalate his trade war on the country’s neighbors and blasting Trudeau as “very dishonest and weak.” Trump accused Trudeau of making false statements and threatened to retaliate against Canada with auto and other tariffs.
Navarro supported that approach Sunday, saying that “when it comes to these trade disputes, these allies basically are robbing us blind.”
“The president is not going to put up with that,” he continued.
Provocative statements are nothing new for Navarro, a Harvard-trained economist and longtime China critic who has taken a leading role in overseeing Trump’s trade policy.
While Trump has several economic and trade advisers, Navarro has ascended in part by fanning Trump’s protectionist instincts. He has pushed the president to pursue aggressive trade policies, including tariffs and investment restrictions, often over the objections of other advisers like Steven Mnuchin, the Treasury secretary.
Here is a look at Navarro’s background and rise to prominence.
— A Longtime China Hawk
Navarro’s perception of China can best be summed up by the title of his book “Death by China” and the ensuing 2012 documentary, which features a bloody “Made in China” knife plunging into a map of the United States.
He has long branded China as an economic enemy and accused it of effectively waging an economic war on the United States by subsidizing exports and impeding U.S. imports. To flip the dynamic, Navarro has advocated the type of aggressive trade policy toward China that Trump is now pursuing, including stiff tariffs on as much as $150 billion worth of Chinese goods and as investment restrictions.
Navarro has long accused China of flooding the United States with cheap metals and was one of the few advisers pressing Trump to proceed with sweeping steel and aluminum tariffs on all countries. Navarro — and Trump — say the measure will ultimately pinch China, which they accuse of routing steel and aluminum through other countries to avoid restrictions that are already in place on Chinese metals.
Navarro also helped orchestrate an investigation into China’s abuse of U.S. intellectual property, which resulted in the United States threatening to impose tariffs on everything from medical devices to flat-screen televisions. “What the United States is doing is strategically defending itself from China’s economic aggression,” Navarro said when the measures were announced in March.
— He Doesn’t Much Like NAFTA or Other Trade Agreements, Either
Navarro came to the White House with multiple trade actions written and ready for the president’s signature, including a directive to begin withdrawing from the North American Free Trade Agreement.
That attempt was blocked by other White House officials, but the 1994 agreement with Canada and Mexico is on the verge of collapse amid deep disagreements with the United States, which has made a series of demands that the other nations consider nonstarters. Trump, who has called NAFTA the worst trade deal in history, has continued to threaten to withdraw from the pact, which has put him at odds with business groups and many Republican lawmakers.
Navarro had an early success — he drafted the presidential memorandum to officially withdraw the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an Obama-era trade deal, which the president signed on his fourth day in office. That pact, which would have set new terms for trade and business investment among the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim nations, was criticized by Trump as “ridiculous.”
Trump has since dangled the prospect of returning to the pact, if it is rewritten in the United States’ favor.
— A Harvard-Trained Economist with Outside-the-Mainstream Views
Navarro is a former professor at the University of California, Irvine, who holds a doctorate from Harvard. He is one of the few credentialed economists in Trump’s inner circle.
But his views do not align with most mainstream economists, who agree that China’s trade practices are a problem but say tariffs are too blunt and ineffective a tool for dealing with it. And most economists do not support the steel and aluminum tariffs that the administration has imposed on allies including Japan, Canada, Mexico and the European Union. A White House economic analysis has also found that the tariffs will hurt economic growth.
Many of those experts say Trump’s planned tariffs would backfire — by raising costs to U.S. businesses and consumers, and by inviting retaliation against U.S. exporters. They say he would better serve his purposes by enlisting international allies in a pressure campaign against Beijing.
But Navarro has objected to that approach, saying that China has been given too many chances to change. Navarro says that China needs to feel the heat of tariffs in order to make changes the United States has long been seeking, including opening its market more fully to U.S. companies and ending its practice of pressuring businesses to hand over valuable technology in order to operate in Beijing. — A Divisive Figure
Navarro’s tenure within the White House has been somewhat of a bumpy ride.
In December 2016, before taking office, Trump created the new office of the White House National Trade Council and appointed Navarro as its director. The creation of the office suggested the new body would have a position on par with the powerful National Security Council and the National Economic Council.
But Navarro’s National Trade Council was eliminated, and he was renamed head of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, which was folded into the National Economic Council and placed under the purview of its director at the time, Gary D. Cohn, whose more conventional views on trade contrasted sharply with those of Navarro.
Navarro, however, outlasted Cohn, who resigned this year over his objections to Trump’s steel and aluminum tariffs. That gave Navarro a freer hand in counseling Trump to embrace the type of tough trade measures that the White House is now putting in place.
His approach has continued to put him at odds with other members of Trump’s inner circle, however, including Mnuchin. The two got into a profanity-laced shouting match during a trip to Beijing last month, after Navarro objected to being kept out of a private meeting between Mnuchin and Liu He, China’s top economic official.
Mnuchin has since sought to play down tensions between the American officials, saying on CNBC that Navarro was “an important part of the team.”