WASHINGTON — White House officials working on trade policy were alarmed last month when a top adviser to President Donald Trump circulated a two-page document that alleged a weakened manufacturing sector leads to an increase in abortion, spousal abuse, divorce and infertility, two people familiar with the matter said.
The fact-sheets, which were obtained by The Washington Post, were prepared and distributed by Peter Navarro, director of the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy. They were presented without any data or information to back up the assertions, and reveal some of the materials the Trump administration reviewed as it was crafting its trade policy.
Two administration officials confirmed the authenticity of the documents. The fact-sheets have emerged as the administration has threatened to withdraw from a free trade agreement with South Korea and is taking a hard-line stance against Canada and Mexico in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.
The fourth round of talks wrapped up on Tuesday amid pointed remarks and with few signs of progress. Negotiators said the talks would have to be extended beyond the original deadline into 2018.
The administration has repeatedly linked the decline in U.S. manufacturing to NAFTA and other trade agreements, claiming the deals were bad for U.S. workers.
Navarro has urged Trump to favor bilateral trade agreements over regional ones such as NAFTA, and he supported the president’s decision to abandon the Trans-Pacific Partnership. His documents alarmed other White House officials, who worried that such unverified information could end up steering White House policy, the two administration officials said, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the internal documents, which were not released publicly.
The documents Navarro circulated list what he alleges are the problems that have resulted from a “weakened manufacturing base.” Some of the consequences are economic, including “lost jobs,” “depressed wages,” and “closed factories.”
But a separate sheet claims “Socioeconomic Costs” of the decline of the country’s manufacturing industry, such as “Higher Divorce Rate,” “Increased Drug/Opioid Use,” “Rising Mortality Rate,” “Higher Abortion Rate,” among many others.
“We don’t comment on purported internal documents,” said a White House official. “The President is working hard on behalf of the American people to make sure our trade agreements are free and fair and benefit the American worker.”
Navarro, an economist, is part of a wing of small but influential White House advisers who believe decades of free trade policies have decimated the U.S. manufacturing base and allowed other countries, such as China, Mexico, and Canada to take advantage of the U.S. They blame U.S. reliance on exports for hurting U.S. manufacturing, something Trump has promised to reverse.
Two administration officials gave differing accounts of Navarro’s memo, which was prepared and shared last month. One described the documents as staff level, but another said the paperwork was shared with cabinet secretaries during internal deliberations.
Though Trump has called NAFTA the “worst agreement ever,” he has heard from a cacophony of voices within the White House on how he should proceed on his trade threats.
White House National Economic Council Director Gary Cohn has tried to press Trump to be cautious, worried about what abrupt changes might mean for the United States and the global economy. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross has focused much of his attention on dealing with what he views as trade imbalances between the United States and China, though some of those decisions have also been delayed as the White House has focused on NAFTA.
Navarro had worked in the White House Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy, a new division created by Trump after the inauguration. But the office was recently folded into the White House National Economic Council. Despite losing his official senior perch within the administration, Navarro remains influential and has argued for a harder line on trade.
The Washington Post’s Steven Mufson contributed to this report.