Timeline of Trade Policy in the Trump Administration


(updated: May 18, 2017)

May 18, 2017 United States Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer notified Congress that President Trump intends to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Through these negotiations, the United States seeks to support higher-paying jobs in the United States and to grow the U.S. economy by improving U.S. opportunities to trade with Canada and Mexico. The letter says the renegotiation will address chapters in the NAFTA that are “outdated and do not reflect modern standards.” Specific trade agendas that the negotiation may address include digital trade, IPR protection, regulatory practices, state-owned enterprises, services, customs procedures, SPS measures, small and medium sized enterprises as well as labor and environmental standards. According to the 2015 TPA bill, the negotiation will not start until August 17, 2017.

May 15, 2017 Robert Lighthizer was sworn in as the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). Lighthizer will be one of three key leaders on trade policy in the Trump administration, working alongside Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House trade and industrial policy adviser Peter Navarro. Both the U.S. textile industry and the apparel industry expressed support for Lighthizer’s appointment. Lighthizer will be the principal U.S. negotiator in talks expected to start later this year to revamp the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

May 11, 2017, the U.S. Department of Treasury and the Department of Commerce released a joint statement announcing the initial actions of the US-China Economic Cooperation 100-Day Plan. According to the statement, both sides agree to address trade and market access issues in agriculture, financial services, investment and the energy sector. The announcement says that the two countries will begin discussing a one-year plan to further solidify actions in promoting U.S. – China economic engagement and cooperation.  Additionally, the announcement confirms that the first meeting of the U.S.-China Comprehensive Economic Dialogue will be held in the United States in the summer of 2017.

April 29, 2017, Trump issued an Executive Order addressing trade agreement violations and abuses. Trump reiterates that he will renegotiate or terminate ANY existing trade agreement, investment agreement or trade relation that “on net, harms the United States economy, United States businesses, United States intellectual property rights and innovation rate, or the American people.”

The executive order also directs the US Trade Representative Office and the Commerce Department to conduct comprehensive performance reviews of ALL bilateral, plurilateral, and multilateral trade agreements and investment agreements to which the United States is a party within 180 days. The review will focus on:

  • Unfair treatment that is harming American workers or domestic manufacturers, farmers, or ranchers; harming US intellectual property rights; reducing the rate of innovation; or impairing domestic research and development;
  • Instances where a trade agreement, investment agreement, trade relation, or trade preference program has failed with regard to such factors as predicted new jobs created, favorable effects on the trade balance, expanded market access, lowered trade barriers, or increased United States exports;

April 29, 2017, Trump issued an Executive Order announcing the establishment of the Office of Trade and Manufacturing Policy (OTMP). The mission of the OTMP is to defend and serve American workers and domestic manufacturers while advising the President on policies to increase economic growth, decrease the trade deficit, and strengthen the United States manufacturing and defense industrial bases. The OTMP will advise Trump on innovative strategies and promote trade policies and serve as a liaison between the White House and the Department of Commerce and undertake trade-related special projects as requested by Trump. It is said that Peter Navarro, the head of the White House National Trade Council, will run the OTMP.

April 18, 2017, Trump issued an Executive Order on Buy American and Hire American. In the order, Trump asks all executive branches to maximize the use of goods, products, and materials produced in the United States. Trump also directs the Commerce Department and the U.S. Trade Representative Office (USTR) to assess the “impacts of all United States free trade agreements and the World Trade Organization Agreement on Government Procurement on the operation of Buy American Laws, including their impacts on the implementation of domestic procurement preferences” within 150 days of the date of the order.

April 13, 2017, the Treasury Department released its semi-annual report on currency practices of major trading partners. The report does NOT label China a “currency manipulator.”

March 31, 2017, Trump issued an Executive Order regarding enhanced collection and enforcement of U.S. anti-dumping and countervailing duty laws. In the order, Trump asks for stricter enforcement of US anti-dumping (AD) and countervailing (CVD) laws to prevent foreign manufacturers from undercutting US companies based on unfair trade practices.

March 31, 2017, Trump issued an Executive Order regarding the Omnibus Report on Significant Trade Deficits. The order directs the Secretary of Commerce (DOC) and the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to identify those foreign trading partners with which the United States had a significant trade deficit in goods in 2016 (note: services were NOT mentioned) within 90 days of the date of the order. Trump directs DOC and USTR to assess the major causes of the trade deficit, whether the trading partner is imposing unequal burdens on, or unfairly discriminating in fact against, the commerce of the United States, the effects of the trade relationship on the production capacity and strength of the manufacturing and defense industrial bases of the United State, the effects of the trade relationship on employment and wage growth in the United States and identify imports and trade practices that may be impairing the national security of the United States.

March 29, 2017, the United States Trade Representative Office submitted a letter to the Congress which lists a few objectives of the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). According to the Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA-2015), the White House must formally notify Congress 90 days before it formally begins renegotiating any trade agreement under the expedited (“fast track”) procedures. According to the letter, Trump will “update” NAFTA to include provisions on topics such as copyright and e-commerce that had been contained in the TPP. Trump also wants to update the rules of origin, SPS regulations on agriculture, customs and enforcement rules, technical barriers of trade, trade in services, government procurement, labor, competition policy and investor state dispute settlement (ISDS) in the renegotiation.

March 1, 2017, the US Trade Reprehensive Office (USTR) released the 2017 Trade Policy Agenda. The report outlines the Trump Administration’s four trade priorities: promoting U.S. sovereignty, enforcing U.S. trade laws, leveraging American economic strength to expand U.S. goods and services exports, and protecting U.S. intellectual property rights. Compared with Obama’s trade policy agenda, the Trump administration will prioritize strengthening the manufacturing base, negotiating bilateral rather than multilateral trade agreement and renegotiating or revising existing trade agreements.  

January 23, 2017, Trump announced to withdrawal the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership Negotiations and Agreement. Trump said in the memorandum that he intended to deal directly with individual countries on a one-on-one (or bilateral) basis in negotiating future trade deals.

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