WASHINGTON, Jan. 4, 2017 - Trump filled the last major trade position in his administration on Tuesday by announcing that trade lawyer Robert Lighthizer would become U.S. Trade Representative. Lighthizer, who served in USTR during the Reagan administration, is known for pursuing trade actions against China on behalf of U.S. companies and has served on Trump’s USTR transition team. 

The nomination fits with Trump’s promise to get tough with China on trade. Bill Brock, who was U.S. trade representative from 1981 to 1985, says Lighthizer’s philosophy is in line with Trump’s. Lighthizer became deputy USTR shortly before Brock left. “Most of his work in the trade field has been more on the industrial side and more on the protectionist side. In that sense, he clearly would have been chosen to reflect the president-elect’s philosophy and his campaign commitments,” said Brock. 

On the other hand, Brock says the nomination of someone with Lighthizer’s credentials suggests that Trump may not be downgrading USTR to the extent it has appeared he might be doing. The transition team has said that Trump’s nominee for the Commerce Department, Wilbur Ross, would take the lead on trade policy, and Trump is also forming a National Trade Council in the White House run by China hawk Peter Navarro. “Knowing Lighthizer, and knowing the respect the Trump team obviously has for him, I would hope that they are going to go to the more traditional pattern” where USTR is the lead agency on trade policy, Brock said.

Some trade critics are pleased with the choice of Lighthizer. Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, said he has “quite a different perspective” on trade policy than GOP congressional leaders. He “is very knowledgeable about both technical trade policy and the ways of Washington, but what sets him aside among high-level Republican trade experts is that for decades his views have been shaped by the pragmatic outcomes of trade agreements and policies rather than fealty to any particular ideology or theory,” she said.

The National Milk Producers Federation and U.S. Dairy Export Council said in a joint statement that Lighthizer’s experience in trade enforcement would “serve him well in forging a path forward on trade policy that will benefit this country.” The statement went on, “A focus on preserving and growing what is working well, while cracking down further on what is not, will help to expand global markets for U.S. dairy farmers and the companies that turn their milk into nutritious dairy products shipped all over the world.”

According to Lighthizer’s bio, while at USTR he negotiated about two dozen bilateral agreements on products ranging from steel to grain.


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