In Reversal, White House Trade Director to Skip Farnborough Airshow

People walk around on day four of the Farnborough International Airshow on July 16, 2014, in Farnborough, England. The show is the biggest event of its kind and attracts people from all over the world. (Getty Images)
People walk around on day four of the Farnborough International Airshow on July 16, 2014, in Farnborough, England. The show is the biggest event of its kind and attracts people from all over the world. (Getty Images)

LONDON -- Peter Navarro, President Donald Trump's director of trade, industrial and export policy at the White House, will no longer be attending the Farnborough International Airshow outside of London, according to a White House official.

A National Security Council spokesperson confirmed to Military.com on Sunday Navarro will not be at the show. A reason for his absence was not given. The news was first reported by Defense News Friday.

Navarro's absence raises numerous questions. Will someone from the White House represent Trump's trade agenda? Does this signal a change of U.S. objectives at world's largest gathering of aerospace and defense firms? Will another White House official still show up unannounced?

While other Defense Department leaders are still expected to attend, the overall White House trade strategy for the show remains murky in light of Navarro's absence.

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Experts last week said the U.S. needed to start focusing more on nurturing relationships instead of treating each sale like a basic transaction, which is how trade experts believe the White House views international business.

"You have to have a long-term strategic view of building relationships over time, identifying partners that you would want to work with and developing those relationships. And I think if you're looking at arms sales as sort of a one-off ... that changes the approach that you would take," said Rachel Stohl, managing director at the Stimson Center who oversees the center's conventional defense program.

U.S. military leaders, meanwhile, have apparently been taking advantage of opportunities to build relationships ahead of the show.

This week at the Royal International Air Tattoo airshow at RAF Fairford, England, U.S. generals such as Air Force Chief of Staff Gen David Goldfein, head of U.S. Air Forces Europe-Africa Gen Tod Wolters, Air Forces Central Command commander Lt. Gen Jeffrey Harrigian, and Lt. Gen. Richard Clark, 3rd Air Force commander, were all spotted mingling with partners and allies before sitting down with more foreign partners at a luncheon.

And similar meetings are expected at Farnborough.

Beginning Monday at the show, "the entire defense universe is there, and anything that is available is out there," said Frank Gorenc, a retired general and the former commander of USAFE, replaced by Wolters in 2016.

"It's a very practical place military and civilian partners see what's available and help make informed decisions to make sure it's interoperable with NATO. In the end, the message from the military side has been pretty consistent," Gorenc told Military.com at RIAT.

The message for partners is to work together to increase "the three key pillars in readiness: resiliency, responsiveness and lethality," said Wolters. "And [by] ensuring...those areas, you put yourself in a position where your military, your Air Force is more capable."

From a business perspective, some companies showcasing their aircraft aren't too worried about the prospect of a trade war, because key conversations are still occurring. Trump in recent weeks announced that the U.S. will impose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and parts of Europe, which could penalize national security and trade.

"Our voice is being heard," said Boeing Co. CEO Dennis Muilenburg.

"This trade topic is difficult. It's multidimensional. There are aspects of it that are being addressed that we want to ensure everyone plays by the same rules. There are other areas where rhetoric around tariffs and potential penalty actions are a concern to us. But every case we have a voice at the table, and I think our perspective is being well considered," Muilenburg said during a Boeing event here in London on Sunday.

Muilenburg said in the perspective of the airshow, "The aerospace sector...drives economic benefit globally. It's truly a global industry. And we want to continue to present that case and why it's good for countries around the world to invest in aerospace."

He added, "That's a central theme for us this year."

-- Oriana Pawlyk can be reached at oriana.pawlyk@military.com. Follow her on Twitter at @oriana0214

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