White House Civil War Breaks Out Over Trade: Economic Nationalists vs. Pro-trade Moderates

A civil war has broken out within the White House over trade, leading to what one official called “a fiery meeting” in the Oval Office pitting economic nationalists close to Donald Trump against pro-trade moderates from Wall Street.

According to more than half a dozen people inside the White House or dealing with it, the bitter fight has set a hardline group including senior adviser Steve Bannon and Trump trade adviser Peter Navarro against a faction led by Gary Cohn, the former Goldman Sachs executive who leads Mr Trump’s National Economic Council.

At the centre of the debate is Mr Navarro, a firebrand economist who has angered Berlin and other European allies by accusing Germany of exploiting a “grossly undervalued” euro and calling for bilateral discussions with Angela Merkel’s government over ways to reduce the US trade deficit with Europe’s most powerful economy.

The officials and people dealing with the White House said Mr Navarro appeared to be losing influence in recent weeks. But during the recent Oval Office fight, Mr Trump appeared to side with the economic nationalists, one official said.

The battle over trade is emblematic of a broader fight on economic policy within the Trump administration. It comes ahead of a visit to Washington next week by Ms Merkel, the German chancellor, and amid preparations for a meeting of G20 finance ministers in Germany next week at which allies’ concerns over protectionism are likely to be high on the agenda.

The White House declined to answer specific questions about the internecine dispute. In a statement, a spokeswoman said: “Gary Cohn and Peter Navarro are both valued members of the president’s economic team. They are working together to enact the president’s economic agenda, protect American workers and grow American businesses.”

According to people familiar with White House discussions, Mr Cohn and others have seized on Mr Navarro’s public comments — and widespread criticism by economists of his stand on trade deficits and other matters — to try and sideline him.

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, headed by another Wall Street veteran, Wilbur Ross.

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SOURCE: Shawn Donnan and Demetri Sevastopulo 
Financial Times