7 Questions for Robert Lighthizer, Trump's Nominee for United States Trade Representative

Examiner (Washington, D.C.), The, March 14, 2017 | Go to article overview

7 Questions for Robert Lighthizer, Trump's Nominee for United States Trade Representative


Robert Lighthizer, President Trump's United States Trade Representative nominee, will testify before the Senate Finance Committee Tuesday afternoon. Lighthizer, a former deputy USTR and long-time Washington trade lobbyist and lawyer, espouses views on trade that are well outside the mainstream of Republican and conservative orthodoxy.

Given his protectionist leanings, it was unsurprising that Trump chose Lighthizer as his USTR. Given these unorthodox views, free-traders in the Senate ought to ask the following questions of Lighthizer during the confirmation hearing:

Determining Trump's Primary Architect of Trade Policy

Under U.S. law, USTR is required to take the lead on trade negotiations, yet it has been reported that Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross will be the primary driver of trade policy in the new administration. This news, coupled with the creation of the National Trade Council within the White House, has created confusion about responsibilities and hierarchy for trade policy in the new administration.

Question for Lighthizer: Can you provide additional clarity about this departure from USTR's traditional role in setting U.S. trade policy?

U.S. Credibility After U.S. Withdrawal from TPP

The Trump administration has withdrawn the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership. This marks the first time the U.S. has failed to ratify a trade agreement it has negotiated to completion.

Question for Lighthizer: Do you believe this will damage the U.S.'s credibility in future trade negotiations? If not, why not? If so, how will you counteract such damage?

Renegotiating NAFTA

The Trump administration has, at various times, suggested renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Question for Lighthizer: If USTR pursues NAFTA renegotiation, what, specifically, would you seek to change about the agreement? Do you have concerns about disrupting North American supply chains that have evolved over the last two decades since NAFTA was implemented?

Downstream Effects of Trade "Enforcement"

As a trade litigator, you have brought numerous anti-dumping and countervailing duties cases. While trade "enforcement" may benefit the industry seeking protection, it can raise prices for downstream users of the product facing higher levies. Between 50 and 60 percent of U.S. imports are intermediate goods used by American businesses in the production process.

Question for Lighthizer: Can you provide an example in which import restrictions have served the United States' economic interests as a whole?

The Trade Deficit and Foreign Investment

The administration routinely laments the trade deficit as a drag on economic growth. Yet in December, Trump celebrated the announcement by Softbank, a Japanese company, to invest $50 billion and create 50,000 new jobs in the United States. This $50 billion investment will count as part of the capital account under international accounting rules, meaning it will be a $50 billion addition to the trade deficit. …

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