Lighthizer to hold talks with Congress on NAFTA, visit Vietnam for APEC talks

Robert Lighthizer will  meet with congressional committees to discuss the administration’s negotiating objectives for NAFTA and travel to Vietnam for the two-day APEC trade ministers meeting.

One of Lighthizer’s first orders of business will be to consult Congress on the administration’s plans to renegotiate Nafta, which Trump called a “disaster” during the election campaign. His confirmation clears a hurdle before the U.S. can start 90 days of consultations preceding Nafta talks. Trump has threatened to withdraw from the agreement with Mexico and Canada if he doesn’t thinks discussions are going his way.

Beyond NAFTA, Lighthizer is likely to make his international debut as U.S. trade representative at the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation’s trade ministers’ summit in Hanoi, Vietnam. The two-day meeting of APEC trade ministers will provide Lighthizer with his first opportunity to meet with his counterparts.

What may be even more notable is that he’ll almost certainly have to defend his boss’ move at the start of his presidency to withdraw the U.S. from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. The proposed Pacific Rim trade deal is expected to be a major topic of conversation in Hanoi, with the ministers from the 11 other TPP nations — the United States excluded — planning to meet on the sidelines to discuss potential ways to move the agreement forward without its most powerful member.

Lighthizer, 69, worked for decades as a trade lawyer, representing clients including U.S. Steel Corp. He served as a deputy USTR under Ronald Reagan, earning a reputation as a hard-nosed negotiator, and he also has political experience from his time as a senior aide to former Senate Finance Committee Chairman Bob Dole.

Lighthizer, who was announced as Trump’s choice for USTR on Jan. 3., takes office with the foremost task of taking the lead for the U.S. in a renegotiation of NAFTA with Canada and Mexico. After months of pointed rhetoric geared toward gaining bargaining table leverage for Trump, businesses and industry coalitions in Canada, Mexico and the U.S. want to move past the tweets and posturing and hear in formal talks what exactly the Trump administration wants from a reboot.

Despite heavy attention on plans to reopen the agreement, the administration has been statutorily barred from meeting with Canadian and Mexican officials until Lighthizer could be confirmed and hold meetings with congressional advisory committees from both chambers. Once those meetings happen, the administration will send formal notification to Congress that it plans to reopen the agreement, kicking off a 90-day consultation period before talks can formally begin.

 

During his confirmation hearing, Lighthizer told lawmakers that China presents one of America’s leading trade problems, adding that the World Trade Organization isn’t capable of handling cases relating to China’s industrial policy.

In keeping with Trump’s “America First” agenda, Lighthizer is skeptical of free-trade deals. He has spent much of the past three decades representing U.S. steel companies fighting the importation of foreign-made steel heavily subsidized and sold below production cost. In his new role, his biggest task, and possibly most immediate, will be to renegotiate NAFTA. The soonest he could do this would be in 90 days, because Trump is required to trigger a consultation period before talks can begin. Mexico and Canada have already begun that process.

Trump has called NAFTA “a disaster” and “the worst trade deal” ever. And while Lighthizer did receive overwhelming bipartisan support, he faced some pushback, even among Republicans.

In some regions of the country, NAFTA may have sent manufacturing jobs across the border,  as Trump said in his inaugural speech. But in other regions, the 23-year-old trade deal has created lots of jobs. So Senators like Orrin Hatch, of Utah, and Arizona’s John McCain were worried.

Read more …

With his new trade representative in place, Trump eyes ‘massive’ NAFTA changes, CBC News, May 11, 2017

It’s deal-making time, Trump’s trade envoy is confirmed, Politico, May 11,2017

About the author  ⁄ AmCham Vietnam

AmCham is an independent association of companies with the objective of promoting trade and investment between Vietnam and the U.S. With two chapters, one in Ho Chi Minh City and one in Hanoi, our membership of 700 companies and 1,500 representatives is unified by a commitment to promote trade and investment between Vietnam and the United States.

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