The latest addition to President-elect Donald Trump's circle of trade advisors shows that the new administration is focused on China in a big way — and it could even go beyond what the World Trade Organization allows.
Trump announced Tuesday he intends to nominate lawyer Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative. A proponent of a tough U.S. position on China, Lighthizer has negotiated restrictions on steel imports and was deputy U.S. trade representative in the Reagan administration.
Ideologically, that puts Lighthizer on the same page as Peter Navarro, author of "Death by China" and Trump's appointee to head the newly created National Trade Council. Trump's pick for Commerce secretary, billionaire Wilbur Ross, will also be involved with the trade council.
"I could certainly see this group promoting tariffs that are not WTO-consistent and saying, 'Who gives a damn,'" said Charles Freeman III, managing director at consulting firm Bower Group Asia and former assistant U.S. trade representative for China affairs.
"Lighthizer comes from the days before WTO … and a lot of trade people who come from before that era regularly talk about WTO as unilateral disarmament," Freeman said.
The Trump transition team and Lighthizer did not respond to CNBC requests for comment.