On April 29 of this year, President Trump signed an executive order that established the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy (OTMP) within the White House. The order specified that the OTMP would “consist of a Director selected by the President and such staff as deemed necessary by the Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff.”
The mission of the OTMP is “to defend and serve American workers and domestic manufacturers while advising the President on policies to increase economic growth, decrease the trade deficit, and strengthen the United States manufacturing and defense industrial bases.”
The executive order also specifically enumerates the duties of the OTMP. Those are threefold in nature: “Advise the President on innovative strategies and promote trade policies consistent with the President’s stated goals; serve as a liaison between the White House and the Department of Commerce and undertake trade-related special projects as requested by the President; and help improve the performance of the executive branch’s domestic procurement and hiring policies, including through the implementation of the policies described in Executive Order 13788 of April 18, 2017 (Buy American and Hire American).”
Personally, I am glad the White House now is home to this new office of the Executive Branch of government. Perhaps it is about time that such an office was established.
The Director chosen by Trump to lead this office is Peter Navarro, an American economist and former professor of economics and public policy at the Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine. Navarro, who was trade-policy advisor to the Trump campaign, has written numerous books, including Death by China.
Navarro is an aggressive proponent of reducing U.S. trade deficits and a vocal opponent of the economic practices of China and Germany with respect to global trade. He also opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a position with which I independently concurred in my editorial on the subject (February 2016). As I wrote then, “I can’t help but feel that trade agreements tend to favor the small economies rather than help the big ones.”
Maybe the time has come that the U.S. will take a harder look at its own interests. I don’t know much about Navarro’s style, though his hawkishness, especially toward China, may be long overdue. Then again, Navarro has among his critics a number of his colleagues in economics who feel that his severe positions flirt with the fringes of economic theory and practice.
It remains to be seen what the OTMP can and will do under Trump’s and Navarro’s leadership. I am skeptical about the efficacy of the OTMP in the long run but wish them well in their efforts to restore America’s position in the global manufacturing community and in foreign trade. Their level of success will, to at least some degree, favorably affect the U.S. forging industry.
However, the President’s penchant for sparring with the media and for using Twitter to steer the news cycle the way he wants it will not get the job done on foreign trade and manufacturing. To fix the issues of foreign trade imbalances and to revive manufacturing in this country, we need more detailed analysis than a series of 140-character tweets and a broader vocabulary than President Trump has yet to display.
Dean M. Peters, Editor