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Lighthizer Emphasizes Deficits, Bilateral Deals at APEC Meeting

Wednesday, May 24, 2017
Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg Trade Report

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer emphasized two of President Trump’s trade policies at a May 20-21 meeting of trade ministers from Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum member countries. Lighthizer also opposed the inclusion of language decrying “protectionist trends,” which he indicated is being inaccurately used to refer to U.S. efforts to create free and fair trade, in a proposed joint statement that the ministers ultimately did not issue.

Lighthizer reaffirmed the president’s “strong commitment to promoting bilateral free and fair trade throughout the Asia-Pacific region.” Trump withdrew the U.S. from the multilateral Trans-Pacific Partnership in January and has consistently expressed a preference for bilateral free trade agreements. In the meantime, TPP members are working to implement the agreement without the U.S. Some have expressed hope that Trump could be persuaded to rejoin the TPP, but Lighthizer said the U.S. is “not going to change that decision.”

Lighthizer also highlighted the “massive U.S. trade imbalances” with APEC economies, which totaled $576 billion in 2016. Lighthizer said that these deficits have been caused by “trade-distorting measures,” a link that economists have disputed, and that the U.S. will seek to reduce them by addressing “persistent unfair trade practices” and working to “expand U.S. export market access.” A report on U.S. trade deficits being prepared by USTR and the Department of Commerce is expected in early July.

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