Now he had his chance.
On the second floor of the Washington Hilton, in the midst of the party, Navarro approached Bezos and pressed him for a meeting. According to Navarro, Bezos agreed.
“ ‘Just call Jay Carney; tell him we’ll meet. We’ll get it done,’ ” Bezos said, referring to Amazon’s senior vice president of global corporate affairs, according to Navarro.
But now Amazon is offering only to have senior executives meet with Navarro, not its chief executive, the White House adviser said. This has escalated a long-simmering tension between the Trump administration and the United States’ largest e-commerce company.
Navarro is fuming. In an interview with The Washington Post, he accused Bezos of backpedaling. Amazon officials would not comment on the specifics of the encounter.
The dinner party meeting and its aftermath reveal how Navarro, and Trump to a certain extent, remain at odds with Bezos, one of the world’s most powerful chief executives. This sentiment does not seem to be universally shared within the West Wing. A few hours after the Navarro run-in, Bezos, who owns The Post, hosted Trump’s daughter Ivanka, her husband, Jared Kushner, and top Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway for a party at his house in Washington.
Navarro has a broad portfolio within the White House, and his top focus of trade and manufacturing is directly tied to Trump’s economic agenda. Navarro has said abusive trade practices, such as the sale of counterfeit goods, give Chinese companies an unfair advantage over U.S. firms, a sentiment Trump has often shared. Navarro held a meeting with the then-chief executive of eBay, Devin Wenig, about the issue and has pushed for a similar audience with Bezos.
Trump has also singled out Bezos personally, attacking the news organization he owns and the company he runs. The president has repeatedly gone after Amazon during his administration, accusing the company of taking advantage of the U.S. Postal Service and alleging that the firm had not paid enough in federal taxes. Trump has also attacked Bezos over coverage of himself in The Post, calling it the “Amazon Washington Post.”
Although Bezos owns The Post and is chief executive of Amazon, the two companies are separate. Bezos does not get involved in news coverage.
Some of Trump’s advisers have said he is mistaken in his allegations about Amazon’s relationship with the Postal Service, which they say has actually benefited from its business relationship with Amazon. Trump has mostly brushed aside their criticism, former administration officials have said. On taxes, Amazon officials have said the firm pays all that is required under existing law.
Navarro said Trump is also angry over the trade of counterfeit goods on Amazon and “thinks it’s outrageous what the e-commerce platforms are getting away with” at the expense of brick-and-mortar retail stores in the United States.
“The reason I want to see Jeff Bezos is because Jeff Bezos could, in the blink of an eye, put a complete halt to the counterfeiting that Amazon is facilitating,” Navarro said. “It’s a rare occurrence where a single individual can have an enormous impact on the issue — but so far, it’s ‘see no evil.’ ”
For example, Navarro wants Amazon to adopt a list of “best practices” that were outlined in the recent government report on counterfeiting. These include stricter vetting of third-party sellers and using rapid notice and “takedown” procedures.
An Amazon spokeswoman said senior executives have met with Navarro and other White House officials “on multiple occasions” to discuss how to guard against counterfeits. Amazon has also said it already spends millions of dollars on the issue, including $400 million in 2018 on things like fraud and abuse.
“We are eager to continue this collaboration and will make our executives available to meet as often as necessary to effectively address this issue,” the Amazon spokeswoman said in a statement.
Amazon also said it already works closely with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and other government agencies to combat fraud and has committed to reporting all confirmed counterfeiters to law enforcement.
Amazon has been investing heavily in its third-party marketplace, which allows merchants to list and sell any number of products as part of its Prime subscription program. But as the marketplace grows, analysts say, it’s opened up new opportunities for overseas merchants and counterfeiters to sell knockoffs without much oversight. Third-party merchants sold more than 1 billion items on Amazon during the holidays, the company said.
The majority of items sold on Amazon come from third-party merchants.
The Trump administration on Jan. 24 said it would begin imposing fines and other penalties on merchants, warehouses and third-party websites such as Amazon that facilitated the import and sale of counterfeits. Pirated goods, they said, have become a growing problem as major merchants rely more heavily on third-party sellers.
“For all practical purposes, these e-commerce hubs are basically laundries for counterfeits,” Navarro said at a news conference announcing the measures. “The thrust of the recommendation is to get e-commerce hubs to accept their fair share of the responsibility.”
Major brands have been outspoken about how online counterfeits are hurting business. LVMH, the parent company of dozens of high-end brands including Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Guerlain, has publicly called on the Trump administration to take a closer look at how third-party merchants, social media platforms and search engines are contributing to a “worrying rise of counterfeit and pirated goods online.”
“Although the Internet is not solely responsible for the worldwide availability of counterfeited and pirated goods, it has been key in facilitating their trade and distribution,” Anish Melwani, chairman and chief executive of the company’s North American operations, said in a July letter to the Commerce Department. “The true cornerstone of electronic commerce is trust, and this trust is systematically being undermined by the prevalence of counterfeits online.”
German footwear giant Birkenstock pulled its products from Amazon four years ago, saying the company wasn’t doing enough to fight counterfeits. David Kahan, chief executive of Birkenstock Americas, likened Amazon’s practices to “modern-day piracy on the high seas.”
A recent Post investigation found a number of knockoffs being sold on Amazon, including handbags with fake logos for Louis Vuitton, Fendi and Gucci. According to former executives and outside consultants, the continued abundance of counterfeit goods on the site is the result of Amazon’s decisions to prioritize a broad selection of products and cheaper prices over the deployment of aggressive technologies and policies that could stem the problem. For its part, the company says it uses “sophisticated tools” to identify and remove counterfeits and has more than 5,000 employees devoted to protecting vendors and consumers against fraud.
Navarro said he has been requesting a meeting with Bezos since April 22, when the White House hosted a roundtable with Amazon representatives on counterfeiting and pirated goods. A spokesperson for eBay confirmed the meeting. He also asked Amazon for a meeting with Bezos at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce gathering on Oct. 16.
“Online counterfeit trafficking is defrauding consumers at the very least and harming or even killing Americans with the fakes coming into our homes and businesses,” Navarro said. “This is a time for Jeff Bezos to stand up and do the right thing. If he needs to be educated on the problem, I am more than happy to go over this with him chapter and verse.”
Jay Greene contributed to this report.