May 3, 2018 / 2:13 AM / 3 months ago

U.S. trade delegation to China divided on tariffs, policy

(This May 2 story corrects name of Fox Business Network in Navarro section)

Steven Mnuchin, Secretary, U.S. Department of the Treasury, speaks at the Milken Institute's 21st Global Conference in Beverly Hills, California, U.S. April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Members of the Trump administration’s seven-man delegation to Beijing for talks to try to stave off a trade war between the world’s two largest economies have widely divergent views on trade policy and tariffs, which may make it difficult for them to speak with one voice.

The players are seen as likely to give President Donald Trump their individual views on any trade offers from Chinese officials, letting him decide whether to accept them or push ahead with tariffs.

Here is a description of the U.S. team.

STEVEN MNUCHIN, U.S. TREASURY SECRETARY

Mnuchin, a former banker, Hollywood film financier and Trump campaign finance manager, holds the top cabinet post overseeing economic and financial regulatory policy. The ex-Goldman Sachs executive was once viewed as one of the administration’s “globalists” allied with former White House economic adviser Gary Cohn in opposition to tariffs. But in recent months, he has voiced strong support for Trump’s tougher trade approach to China and steel and aluminum tariffs. The Treasury is now developing U.S. investment restrictions on Chinese companies.

ROBERT LIGHTHIZER, U.S. TRADE REPRESENTATIVE

Lighthizer served as a deputy USTR in the 1980s, using tariff threats to win voluntary export restraints from Japan on autos and steel, earning a reputation as a tough negotiator. The Washington trade lawyer has long expressed views that China has failed to live up to obligations that came with joining the World Trade Organization in 2001. He led USTR’s “Section 301” intellectual property study alleging that China misappropriated U.S. technology, resulting in threatened tariffs on up to $150 billion in Chinese goods. Lighthizer said this week that changing the U.S. relationship with China is “a big, big challenge” that would play out over years.

PETER NAVARRO, WHITE HOUSE TRADE AND MANUFACTURING ADVISER

Navarro, a former economics professor at the University of California-Irvine, won notoriety for his controversial book and film, “Death by China.” He holds the most hawkish views on Chinese trade policy, and is seen as likely to oppose a short-term agreement that does little to change the course of China’s industrial policy. He recently argued on Fox Business Network that the tariffs are designed to compensate the United States for “robbing our technology blind,” adding: “If you allow China to basically capture the industries of the future, we won’t have a future.”

LARRY KUDLOW, WHITE HOUSE ECONOMIC POLICY ADVISER

Kudlow is best known as CNBC television’s longtime conservative markets and economics commentator, who replaced Gary Cohn as the head of the National Economic Council. Like Cohn, Kudlow has long been an advocate for free markets and trade, and had frequently criticized Trump’s tariff approach. But since taking the job he has referred to tariffs as a negotiating tactic aimed at achieving fairer trade relationships. Kudlow also has acted to calm uneasy markets by telling White House cameras that a trade war has not started and the tariffs may not take effect.

WILBUR ROSS, U.S. COMMERCE SECRETARY

Ross, the 80-year-old billionaire investor and steel executive, has been a strong advocate of tariffs to level the playing field for U.S. companies. At Commerce, he heads the administration’s stepped up anti-dumping enforcement efforts and presided over global steel and aluminum tariffs enacted in March. But Ross’ influence in trade policy has waned somewhat after Trump rejected a deal that Ross had arranged last July during the last major U.S.-China economic dialogue in Washington.

EVERETT EISSENSTAT, DEPUTY ASSISTANT TO THE PRESIDENT FOR INTERNATIONAL ECONOMIC POLICY

Eissenstat serves as the “sherpa” negotiating on behalf of the United States at major international economic gatherings such as the G20 and G7 summits. A long-time trade hand who once worked at USTR, he was most recently the chief trade lawyer for the Senate Finance Committee, where he helped pass the 2015 “fast track” trade negotiating authority legislation. Eissenstat briefed reporters on Trump’s first $50 billion in tariffs, saying that China had used technology transfers from U.S. companies “to establish its own competitive advantage in an unfair manner.”

TERRY BRANSTAD, U.S. AMBASSADOR TO CHINA

Former Iowa governor Branstad brings to the talks a longstanding relationship with China and a strong perspective on agriculture — a U.S. sector vulnerable to China’s threatened tariff retaliation. Chinese President Xi Jinping, who first met Branstad in 1985 on an agricultural mission to Iowa, has described the ex-governor as “old friend of China” after decades of farm commodities trade. But Branstad has vowed to support Trump’s tougher approach to China on trade issues.

FILE PHOTO - Robert Lighthizer, United States Trade Representative, and Peter Navarro chat while they wait for U.S. President Donald Trump to arrive to make an announcement about new tariffs for steel and aluminum imports at the White House in Washington, U.S. March 8, 2018. REUTERS/Leah Millis

Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Lisa Shumaker

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