Donald Trump
President-elect Donald Trump. Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

President-elect Donald Trump took aim at General Motors on Tuesday after officially nominating a protectionist as his pick for America's top trade negotiator.

Trump tapped Robert Lighthizer, who worked on protectionist policies in the Reagan administration, to be his Trade Representative. He will be tasked with renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement between the US, Canada, and Mexico, among other agreements.

Under President Ronald Reagan, Lighthizer helped broker nearly 24 bilateral international agreements covering products and commodities like steel and grain. "These agreements were uniformly tough and frequently resulted in significant reductions in the shipment of unfairly traded imports into the United States," Trump's transition team said in a statement announcing the pick on 3 January.

"Ambassador Lighthizer is going to do an outstanding job representing the United States as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first," Trump said in a statement, adding that he will turn around "failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity."

Soon after the announcement went out Trump fired off a series of online messages criticising General Motors for building some of its vehicles in Mexico. "General Motors is sending Mexican made model of Chevy Cruze to US car dealers-tax free across border," he said, threatening the car maker to either build their vehicles in the US "or pay big border tax!"

But General Motors disputes that claim, noting that only a "small number" of Cruz hatchbacks sold in the US are made in Mexico. Mostly "General Motors manufactures the Chevrolet Cruze sedan in Lordstown, Ohio," the American car manufacturer said in a statement. "GM builds the Chevrolet Cruze hatchback for global markets in Mexico, with a small number sold in the US," it said.

The day before trump accused China of "taking out massive amounts of money and wealth" in one-sided trade deals.

Lighthizer is intended to work with Secretary of Commerce-designate Wilbur Ross and the new White House National Trade Council. The Trump transition team said they will be tasked with developing and negotiating trade "policies that shrink our trade deficit, expand economic growth, strengthen our manufacturing base and help stop the exodus of jobs from our shores."