Trump to realign trade power in a few select members of his administration

Washington, Jan 3 (IANS) US President-elect Donald Trump will consolidate trade policy decisions in the hands of a few select members of his administration rather than the Office of the US Trade Representative (USTR), local media reported on Monday.

“The core of trade power appears to be shifting away from the Office of the US Trade Representative, an agency that has led negotiations on a series of complex trade deals, including the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership) and a deal between the United States and the European Union,” Xinhua news agency cited The Hill, a top US political website, which also noted that Trump has criticised the USTR for negotiating bad trade deals.

Wilbur Ross, Trump’s nominee for Commerce Secretary, is expected to lead the charge on trade policy going forward, with Peter Navarro, Director of the newly-created National Trade Council at the White House, serving as a liaison to Trump, the report said, adding that Navarro is expected to “play a more personal role in negotiating trade policies with countries like China” .

But there is still “plenty of uncertainty” around whether Jason Greenblatt, Trump’s special representative for international negotiations, would work with the USTR or supersede that agency’s role, the report said.

Sean Spicer, Trump’s senior communications adviser, said last week that the USTR will remain the principal negotiator on trade deals, but Navarro, Ross and Greenblatt will also “be part of that process”. Trump has not yet named his pick for the USTR.

“Given the announced structure of the incoming administration, the USTR may not even be the second-most important voice on trade, behind Ross and Navarro,”said Phil Levy, senior fellow at the Chicago Council on Global Affairs, adding the USTR will “have a difficult time” winning respect abroad when matched against ministers.

Trump had made trade as a centrepiece of his presidential campaign and called for dramatic changes in US trade policy. He had vowed to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and pull the United States out of the controversial TPP trade deal, but hadn’t provided details on what steps he might take.