USTR Lighthizer Discusses Philosophies behind Trump Administration’s Trade Policy

At an event hosted by the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) on September 18, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer addressed the U.S. trade policy in the Trump Administration, particularly Trump’s beliefs on trade:

Philosophy 1: The reason why some Americans oppose free trade is NOT that they were “ill-informed.” Rather, it is because the U.S. trade policy for decades has failed to create a “level playing field.” The Trump Administration will proactively use all instruments to “make it expensive” for U.S. trading partners to engage in the non-economic behavior, convince U.S. trading partners to treat U.S. workers, farmers, and ranchers fairly and demand “reciprocity” both in the home and international markets.

Philosophy2: Trade deficits matter. Although trade policy is not the only cause for the trade deficit, it can be a major contributor, such as high tariffs that deny the market access for U.S. products, not imposing the border adjustment tax and currency manipulation.

Philosophy 3: China is the top challenge. According to Lighthizer, “the sheer scale of China’s coordinated efforts to develop their economy, to subsidize, to create national champions, to force technology transfer, and to distort markets in China and throughout the world is a threat to the world trading system that is unprecedented.”

Philosophy 4: The Trump Administrations will exam all existing trade agreements to make sure they provide “roughly equivalent” measured by trade deficits. “Where there the numbers and other factors indicate a disequilibrium, one should renegotiate.”

During the Q&A session, Lighthizer further shared his views on some cutting-edge trade issues:

  1. Regarding the NAFTA renegotiation, Lightlizher said that the negotiation is “moving at warp speed, but we don’t know whether we’re going to get to a conclusion, that’s the problem.” The consultation process with U.S. Congress is complicated and time-consuming, but it is unavoidable.
  2. The Trump Administration prefers bilateral trade deal over regional and multilateral ones. Given the size of the U.S. economy, Lighthizer believes that bilateral trade agreement will provide more negotiation leverages and ensure better enforcement.
  3. The Trump Administration will still stay very much engaged in Asia.
  4. The WTO Dispute-Settlement mechanism doesn’t work well—it has both imposed new obligations for the U.S. and reduced a lot of U.S. benefits.
  5. Regarding the outlook for the Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) negotiation, Lighthizer stressed the importance of the US-EU trade relations. He said that the series of elections in EU is a reason why the negotiation of the agreement hasn’t moved forward.
  6. Regarding TISA (Trade in services agreement), the U.S. objective is to open markets and eliminate market access barriers for U.S. companies.

Author: Sheng Lu

Professor @ University of Delaware

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