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Trade Lawyer Lighthizer Tapped as U.S. Trade Representative

Wednesday, January 04, 2017
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

Solidifying a team expected to take a more enforcement-oriented approach to trade policy, President-elect Donald Trump announced Jan. 3 his choice of Robert Lighthizer to serve as U.S. trade representative. A statement from Trump’s transition team said that in this role Lighthizer, a longtime trade attorney who served as deputy USTR under President Ronald Reagan, will work to “develop and implement policies that shrink our trade deficit, expand economic growth, strengthen our manufacturing base and help stop the exodus of jobs from our shores.”

The statement said Lighthizer will be part of an effort to secure “good trade deals that put the American worker first” and emphasized his “extensive experience” in the legislative branch, the executive branch, and the private sector. Under Reagan, Lighthizer 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.” 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 American 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.”

Lighthizer’s nomination as USTR will have to be confirmed by the Senate Finance Committee, where both Chairman Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., hinted at disapproval of Trump’s views on trade policy and his choice for USTR. Hatch said the new administration’s trade agenda should “reflect U.S. commercial interests,” which many observers have said Trump’s threats of hiking import tariffs and renegotiating trade agreements do not do, and vowed “a vigorous discussion of [Lighthizer’s] trade philosophy and priorities” during his confirmation hearing. Wyden added that he wants to learn how Lighthizer would “address today’s challenges and deliver a trade policy that is as effective for the millworker … as it is for the software developer,” a possible reference to accusations by some that Trump’s policy prescriptions are anachronistic.

While Trump spokesmen have said that USTR will remain the “principal negotiator on trade deals,” they have also said that Commerce Secretary-designate Wilbur Ross, National Trade Council chief Peter Navarro, and special representative for international negotiations Jason Greenblatt will “play an instrumental role in not just our trade negotiations but our trade policy overall and crafting an agenda.” Few details on how this process will work have yet been made available.

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