US Should Forge New Pro-Trade Path Under Lighthizer

Finally, after four months of waiting, the United States has a new Trade Representative – Robert Lighthizer. Lighthizer steps in as USTR during what could potentially be a large shift in American trade policy under the Trump administration. Lighthizer’s career has, on paper, prepared him well for the role, which has taken on a new importance following trade-related tension in relationships with some allies under the new administration.

Lighthizer will begin his role by meeting with members of Congress throughout this week, followed by a trip Thursday to Vietnam for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meetings. Following the dismantling of the TPP – Lighthizer faces a great deal of pressure to improve trade relations through other means with Asian-Pacific countries, which represent a large potential consumer base for American goods and services.

In addition to building relationships across Asia, Lighthizer will also be expected to reevaluate NAFTA and modernize the agreement to back-up promises made by President Trump on the campaign trail. Since taking office, Trump has threatened to retreat from NAFTA, citing his belief that the agreement is shortsighted for American workers. On Monday, shortly after Lighthizer’s swearing in, a group of 18 Republican senators issued a public letter to him stating, "Given that the agreement is more than two decades old, there are areas in which NAFTA will benefit from strengthening and modernization. On the other hand, efforts to abandon the agreement or impose unnecessary restrictions on trade with our North American partners will have devastating economic consequences."

Lighthizer is a sign of hope for critics who see the Trump administration falling behind on progressive action related to trade.

Ainsley Shea