During his election-style rally on Saturday celebrating the “ridiculous” 100-day milestone of the Trump administration, the president quietly signed yet another trade-related executive order (now being styled by the White House as “legislative orders”), establishing the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy (OTMP), a new agency within the executive branch that replaces the recently created, but never formally instituted, National Trade Council.
According to the order, the OTMP has been charged with a remit 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.” Like the now defunct and barely functional NTC (that reportedly wasn’t “allowed” to hire staff and had to rely on personnel borrowed from other agencies), the new entity will also be headed by Trump’s international trade guru, Peter Navarro.
A former investment advisor, professor at University of California, Irvine, and the author of over a dozen books, including the alarmist polemic “Death by China,” Navarro’s economic nationalism and particularly his unorthodox views regarding trade deficits are widely considered fringe and misguided by most economists. Navarro is also credited with drafting the abortive executive order that would have pulled the U.S. out of the North American Free Trade Agreement had not a variety of people convinced President Trump at the last minute to reconsider making such a radical move because it would have resulted in widespread job losses in the very same areas of critical swing states that voted for him.
In addition to advising the president, the OTMP will also act as a liaison between the White House and Commerce Department and help ensure government agencies strictly enforce Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” initiative. These efforts will be spearheaded by Rolf Lundberg, formerly a congressional and public affairs officer at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce and up to now the head of global public policy at Choice Hotels International, along with Alexander Gray, a defense policy writer who formerly worked as a staffer for congressman Randy Forbes (R-VA).
Also signed with little fanfare on Saturday, another “legislative order” from the White House directs the U.S. Department of Commerce and the U.S. Trade Representative to conduct a “performance review” specifically addressing violations and abuses under all existing international trade and investment agreements. The 180-day undertaking will also include a “systemic evaluation” of what has been the impact of the World Trade Organization agreements “on the country as an integrated whole,” according to a briefing by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross.
Similar in nature to the executive order signed on March 31 calling for the “first systematic analysis” investigating the cause(s) of America’s bilateral trade deficits with various countries, the new order directs Commerce to “carefully examine each of the governing agreements to assess whether they are working for America and whether the predicted benefits, in terms of jobs and economic growth, are being achieved.”
While more narrowly focused in some respects than the previous order in terms of concentrating specifically on “violations and abuses” of trade agreements, in other ways it is also more expansive when it comes to taking aim at the WTO, that Ross described as the “grandparent” of all trade agreements and contemptuously disparaged as an “outdated” body that has been “a significant impediment to getting anything like a reciprocal agreement” – a core tenet of the administration’s emerging trade doctrine.