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Lighthizer Moves Toward Confirmation as U.S. Trade Representative

Wednesday, April 26, 2017
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

The Senate Finance Committee unanimously approved April 24 the nomination of Robert Lighthizer as U.S. trade representative. Lighthizer’s confirmation by the full Senate, which could come within the next week, could spur progress on Trump administration trade initiatives such as renegotiating NAFTA.

The White House has emphasized Lighthizer’s trade enforcement experience, signaling the direction he is expected to take. As deputy USTR in the Reagan administration he “played a major role” in “negotiating roughly two dozen bilateral international agreements” that “frequently resulted in significant reductions in the shipment of unfairly traded imports into the United States,” a press release said. He also served as chief of staff on the Senate Finance Committee “when Congress passed the Reagan program of tax cuts and spending reductions,” aided in the passage of legislation that implemented the Tokyo Round of trade negotiations, and represented the U.S. at meetings of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and meetings related to the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (the precursor to the World Trade Organization). In private practice, Lighthizer has represented U.S. manufacturers in “many of the largest and most significant trade cases of the last 25 years,” helping secure outcomes that “reduc[ed] unfair imports and help[ed] thousands of American workers and numerous businesses.”

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said Congress sees the USTR as “the primary official responsible for developing and executing trade policy” and Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., added that “it’s clear from an institutional and legal standpoint that Mr. Lighthizer as the U.S. trade representative is the leading person.” However, the White House’s view of Lighthizer’s role has been less clear. While administration officials have said the USTR will remain the “principal negotiator on trade deals” they have also said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, National Trade Council chief Peter Navarro, and special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt will play an “instrumental role” in trade negotiations and trade policy.

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