US Senate confirms Trump’s top trade negotiator and a hardliner on China

PUBLISHED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 4:29am
UPDATED : Friday, 12 May, 2017, 5:14am

The US Senate on Thursday voted to confirm Robert Lighthizer, a 69-year old former trade technocrat during the Reagan administration to be the next US Trade Representative.

After months of delays, the confirmation has filled all cabinet positions in US President Donald Trump’s administration. Lighthizer’s confirmation hearing was held on March 14.

Republican Senator John McCain and Ben Sasse had written a letter Tuesday opposing Lighthizer’s nomination. That did not stop the nomination, which was approved by an 82-14 vote.

The Senators were apprehensive that Lighthizer did not fully understand the complex problems in renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

“Your confirmation process has failed to reassure us that you understand the North American Free Trade Agreement’s positive economic benefits to our respective States and the nation as a whole, “ they said in their letter.

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Orrin Hatch, chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and who voted in favour of Lighthizer added “there are definitely opportunities to update and improve NAFTA”.

At one point, Trump threatened to scrap the trade agreement in North America, until he changed his mind after appeals by Canada and Mexico.

Lighthizer could play hardball towards China too.

“I believe [Mr Trump] is going to change the paradigm on China and, if you look at our problems, China is right up there,” Lighthizer said during his Senate hearing.

“Lighthizer thinks there is too much protections in China. [There’s a]way to go on China steel tariffs,” a Washington trade expert told the Post.

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Lighthizer was a partner at the law firm of Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom and served as deputy USTR under President Ronald Reagan.

He is widely seen as a strong supporter of US steel industry which has often accused China of unfair trade practises.

“Bob Lighthizer is eminently qualified to serve in this position, having served with distinction previously at USTR, on Capitol Hill and as a trade attorney in private practise,” Tom Gibson, CEO of the American Iron and Steel Institute, said in a previous statement.