Treasury’s Mnuchin Fends Off Push to Reject Protectionism

BADEN-BADEN, Germany—U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin rebuffed a concerted push by world finance chiefs on Saturday to disavow protectionism, fanning fears that the Trump administration’s pursuit of an “America First” policy could ignite global trade conflicts.

.. At a news conference, Mr. Mnuchin said earlier language on protectionism “was not necessarily relevant from my standpoint.”

He also warned that some global trade agreements weren’t being enforced, and that the new administration would be aggressive in doing so.

.. Mr. Schäuble said at a news conference that Mr. Mnuchin appeared to have no mandate to negotiate any new or creative commitments on trade.

.. Brazil Finance Minister Henrique Meirelles told the G-20 about his country’s own experience with protectionism as the country has just experienced its worst recession on record.

“We had adopted during the last years some protectionist measures for some sectors of the economy and the net result was not positive,”

.. Evidence that it may just be too soon for the U.S. to offer the G-20 anything substantive on trade, financial regulation, tax overhauls and other policies, Mr. Mnuchin relied on senior civil servants to conduct much of the detailed negotiations at the meeting.

.. If trade czar Peter Navarro and Steve Bannon, a top Trump adviser and self-described economic nationalist, have their way, many officials fear the White House could trigger a trade war. The administration has advocated applying unilateral actions that eschew a rules-based multilateral order, including submission to the World Trade Organization’s authority.

.. The U.S. delegation found a rare ally in Japan, which came to the defense of Mr. Mnuchin, saying talks over American protectionism were overblown.

The Economic Anxieties That Motivate Donald Trump Loyalists

The president’s backers often cite the trade imbalance, federal debt and the cost of foreign wars—not health insurance or immigrants

Yet there is a solid cadre of Trump supporters who aren’t turned off by the turmoil, but rather see it as a sign that something is happening. They remain loyal; for them, the Trump message is more important than the messenger.

 .. an estimate of the total cumulative cost of military operations in Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere over the last 15 years, which runs north of $1.5 trillion.

.. In a January Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, for example, addressing trade unfairness and keeping jobs from going abroad far outranked deporting illegal immigrants or building a border wall as top priorities among Trump voters.
.. the fact that Mr. Trump has effectively tapped into these sentiments doesn’t necessarily mean his policies will resolve the underlying problems. In fact, they actually could make them worse.
His desire for a big tax cut, his defense buildup and his reluctance to trim Medicare or roll back Medicaid growth may grow the debt further. His pledge to wipe Islamic State “from the face of the earth” could add to the costs of overseas adventures. His trade policies could set off trade wars that would undermine the economy without ending that trade deficit.
.. They are told, for example, that budget deficits and debt don’t undermine the economy, but don’t buy it.
.. Mr. Trump may not have the answers, but, as the entertainer he once was, he knows his audience.

White House civil war breaks out over trade

‘Fiery meeting’ in Oval Office between economic nationalists and pro-trade moderates
.. That has led to discussions over moving Mr Navarro and the new National Trade Council he leads out of the White House and to the Commerce Department
.. Mr Navarro’s case has not been helped by his interactions with Republicans in Congress. He was criticised for being ill-prepared and vague at a closed-door briefing he held with Senators last month to discuss Mr Trump’s trade agenda and angered some Republicans as a result.
.. Among Mr Cohn’s recent appointments has been Andrew Quinn, a respected former diplomat and trade official who served as a senior negotiator during the Obama administration’s push for a Trans-Pacific Partnership with Japan and 10 other countries.
.. The appointment of Mr Quinn drew a howl of protest from Breitbart, the rightwing web site Mr Bannon used to lead. It labelled the career official an “enemy within”
.. “The situation is less worrying than it was two months ago because [Mr] Navarro seems to be more and more marginalised,” said one European official. “His influence seems to be diminishing quickly.”
.. “At the moment it appears that the Wall Street wing of the Trump administration is winning this battle and the Wall Street wing is in favour of the status quo in terms of US trade policy,” Ms Lee said.

For Commerce Pick Wilbur Ross, ‘Inherently Bad’ Deals Paid Off

And yet, for more than a decade, those same trade deals helped Mr. Ross amass a fortune across the globe — in countries like Mexico and China, among others. In fact, Mr. Ross has sometimes invested overseas in ways that Mr. Trump condemns.

.. As the head of an auto parts company, Mr. Ross shipped jobs to Mexico, taking advantage of the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he now says is unfair and must be renegotiated. That company, along with a textile firm he founded, publicly stated that Mexico was central to their growth.

.. “As a private businessman, Mr. Ross made pragmatic decisions based on the rules of the road at the time , and it is precisely his knowledge of how trade deals work that will allow him to be successful in renegotiating bad deals like Nafta,

.. in 2006, Mr. Ross announced plans to open an $80 million state-of-the-art cotton plant in Vietnam that would employ 1,500 workers. It was one of many business decisions Mr. Ross made over the years that seemed to depart from Mr. Trump’s stance against free-trade deals and the migration of jobs overseas.

.. But he began transferring work to Mexico in the early days of his business. When Mr. Ross acquired an auto parts factory in Carlisle, Pa., a decade ago, he took a hard line with the union, demanding cuts in wages and benefits worth between a quarter and 30 percent of workers’ earnings

.. “Wilbur Ross — there’s no way he cares about the worker,” said Stacey Foltz, who worked at the plant for 10 years. “He made billions of dollars taking jobs out of the country.”