White House trade adviser Peter Navarro took a shot at Wall Street Friday, warning "globalist elites" against meddling with the Trump administration's policy on China.
Bankers are putting a "full court press" on the White House to make a deal that would end the escalating trade war between the two nations, Navarro said during a speech at the Center for Strategic and International Studies in Washington, DC.
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"If and when there is a deal, it will be on President Donald J. Trump's terms -- not Wall Street terms," he said.
"If Wall Street is involved and continues to insinuate itself into these negotiations, there will be a stench around any deal that's consummated because it will have the imprimatur of Goldman Sachs and Wall Street," Navarro added.
Navarro, a former economics professor, accused billionaires and hedge fund managers of engaging in "shuttle diplomacy" between the United States and China, which he says weakens the President and his negotiating position. It wasn't immediately clear what he was referring to.
His remarks come ahead of Trump's expected meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit later this month in Argentina. The administration has sent mixed messages about whether the two are nearing a truce that would lift more than $250 billion in retaliatory tariffs on an array of goods ranging from chemical products and motors to luggage and hats.
The comments reflect the ongoing divisions inside the Trump administration between free traders -- including those with Wall Street backgrounds like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and economic adviser Larry Kudlow -- and the so-called nationalists, who hew to the "America First" stance laid out during the campaign and early months of Trump's presidency by former chief strategist Steve Bannon.
"Wall Street is a very easy boogeyman to attack in situations like these," said Rufus Yerxa, a former US trade official who now leads the National Foreign Trade Council, in an interview with CNN. "But look, the concern about making sure that the US gets the right results in China without provoking a trade war comes from Main Street, and from the American companies that make things, produce jobs and export stuff."
Yerxa said his members, which include companies like Google, Walmart, Visa, General Electric and Caterpillar, have been offering input to the Trump administration wherever possible, but notes there's still "a bit of confusion" over which direction the White House may be going given ongoing internal discussions.
"We don't have any clear sense of where they are," said Yerxa, referring to any developing proposals. "A lot of the business community isn't being brought into details of that."
Trump earlier this week promised a positive meeting with Xi.
"We'll have a good meeting and we're going to see what we can do," the President said at his Wednesday news conference following the midterm elections.
But fault lines between the US and China were on clear display Friday during a meeting between senior military officials, who challenged each other over the South China Sea, Taiwan, religious freedom and trade.
Trump has made it a priority to take an aggressive stance against China for what he says are unfair trade practices, including intellectual property theft and forced technology transfers. He's threatened to escalate the trade war further by taxing the remaining Chinese goods sold to the United States.
Many American manufacturers, farmers and lawmakers from both sides of the aisle say they appreciate the administration's efforts to change China's trade policies. But some argue the tariffs aren't the best way to address the issues. They pose a dilemma to US importers who must decide whether to absorb the higher cost of the goods or pass it on to consumers, and some exporters are hurting from China's retaliatory tariffs.
Former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn left the administration in the wake of a fierce disagreement over tariffs on steel and aluminum. Earlier this week, Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs executive, told the BBC that the tariffs could hurt the US economy.
"I look at tariffs as a bit of a consumption tax [and] we do not want to tax our consumers when they're going to spend their disposable income on what we produce, which is services," he said.
In his remarks Friday, Navarro also blamed Wall Street for the decline in manufacturing and the opioid crisis.
"If they want to do good, then spend their billions in Dayton, Ohio, in the factory towns of America where we need a rebirth of our manufacturing base and end to the opioid crisis -- which they helped create by off-shoring our production," he said.
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