Donald Trump appointed Peter Navarro as the head of the newly created National Trade Council – it has been his anti-China stance outlined in his book ‘Death by China’ that has led to his surprise hiring by Trump. The book talks of the economic and military rise of China and the demise of the US manufacturing industry unable to compete with the Chinese sweatshops.
However a lot of the criticisms that Navarro has pointed at China have been quite valid.
1. Currency – the intervention on the foreign exchange market to keep their currency weak so improving the competitiveness of exports.
2. Intellectual property – forcing American firms to hand over intellectual property as a condition of access to the Chinese market.
3. Pollution – Chinese firms pollute the environment and have weak environmental controls on industry.
4. Working conditions – these are far worse than what is the law in most industrialized countries.
5. Export subsidies – government assistance help reduce the cost and ultimately the price of exports from China.
In 2006 he estimated that 41% of China’s competitive advantage over the USA in manufacturing came from unfair practices like those above and when China joined the WTO in 2001 the trade deficit with the USA ballooned at the same time millions of manufacturing jobs disappeared. The deficit though was funded by the Chinese and it was a consequence of the Chinese buying US Treasury bills – to put it simply the Chinese funded US consumers to buy Chinese products. Niall Ferguson refers to the relationship as Chimerica – the two are interdependent in that the USA borrows off the Chinese and then uses that money to buy Chinese products.
Navarro believes that with China adhering to global trade rules the deficit in manufacturing will decrease and manufacturing jobs will return to the US. However when jobs return they are not the same as they were in previous years as it is highly likely that productivity/technology has refined the production process. Research has also suggested that when the trade deficit with China increased (1998-2010) the loss of manufacturing jobs only rose slightly 2.5m to 2.7m. One wonders what Navarro will do in the coming months?
Sources: The Economist, The Ascent of Money by Niall Ferguson.