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Ways and Means, U.S. Trade Representative Lighthizer Lay Out Goals for Trade Agenda

June 22, 2017

Today, the Ways and Means Committee, chaired by Rep. Kevin Brady (R-TX), held a hearing with the United States Trade Representative, Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, to discuss the Trump Administration’s trade policy agenda.

Welcoming Ambassador Lighthizer to the Committee, Chairman Brady reinforced the importance of U.S. leadership in setting the standards of international commerce:

“As a former Deputy USTR under President Reagan and an experienced trade negotiator, you understand that U.S. leadership and participation in a rules-based trading system is essential to our nation’s prosperity. America has led the world in global commerce for the better part of the last 100 years.”

He continued: 

“To preserve and strengthen America’s leadership in global commerce, it’s not enough to just buy American products and services. We also have to sell American … We must continue to set the standards of global commerce. With 96 percent of the world’s customers located outside the United States, we cannot afford to sit on the sidelines, or worse, lead the world into abandoning the rules that have served us so well.”

Ambassador Lighthizer affirmed President Trump’s strong commitment to pro-growth trade policies:

“Under President Trump and his administration, I am here to tell you that trade is certainly a top priority, and it is my intent to work with this Committee to achieve true progress for all Americans.”

One of the Administration’s key priorities is strengthening existing trade agreements, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which has not been significantly updated since it was negotiated almost 25 years ago. While NAFTA has successfully created jobs, grown the American economy, and helped our businesses to compete and win – from agriculture to manufacturing to services – Members agreed with the Administration that the agreement can be modernized to better reflect the needs of our workers and businesses in a 21st century economy.

Texas – the nation’s leading exporter – has experienced significant economic growth due to NAFTA. Rep. Kenny Marchant (R-TX) asked Ambassador Lighthizer how the Administration plans to modernize NAFTA without disrupting trade or harming the millions of American jobs NAFTA supports. Ambassador Lighthizer reassured the Committee that the Administration is committed to a seamless renegotiation process, saying:

“Our objective is to have more trade, not less trade and our objective is to first of all, do no harm. We expect that as a result of this, the U.S. will have more sales and we hope that there is more trade. But clearly, with respect to the provisions that NAFTA has been successful, we want to secure that going forward.”

While the Administration modernizes NAFTA, Members also noted how vital it is to the U.S. economy to open markets in the Asia-Pacific region. Using the bilateral agreement between the United States and South Korea as an example, Trade Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert (R-WA) asked Ambassador Lighthizer how the Administration plans to pursue additional bilateral trade agreements in the Asia-Pacific region in order to strengthen U.S.-led trading standards and ensure America does not lose ground to China. Ambassador Lighthizer replied:

“I certainly agree with the Chairman’s basic point at the very beginning, which you have also endorsed. Which is that the United States moves in, we have an agreement that’s a high standards agreement. In many cases on a bilateral agreement you can have higher standards … I think having those kinds of agreements does push back against China, does change the standards, and does have people realizing the United States is engaged. And it has a ripple effect throughout the region.”

As Members reiterated, our trade agreements – when strictly enforced – have helped local businesses reach new markets and sell their products to new customers around the world. For example, trade agreements have been vital to American agriculture – whether it is sweet potatoes from Rep. George Holding’s (R-NC) home state of North Carolina or beef from Rep. Kristi Noem’s (R-SD) home state of South Dakota – and the jobs that these new opportunities create.

Reinforcing the need to hold America’s trading partners accountable, Ambassador Lighthizer said:

“The President’s agenda is not limited to new negotiations, as the President takes seriously the need for the United States to enforce laws already on the books … We believe that too little has been done in this area in recent years, and we are actively assessing ways to get tough on countries who do not respect our economic system.”

Chairman Brady and several Committee Members, including Reps. Pat Tiberi (R-OH), Jackie Walorski (R-IN), and Lynn Jenkins (R-KS), expressed appreciation for the Administration’s efforts to address unfair trading practices. But they also cautioned Ambassador Lighthizer to carefully consider how the Administration utilizes available trade enforcement measures – specifically, the use of Section 232 authority to restrict aluminum and steel imports. Chairman Brady said:

“Done improperly, we cut off supply that our companies need to stay competitive. Done hastily, we raise costs and prove to our partners that we aren’t reliable. Done indiscriminately, we harm countries that trade fairly and send a protectionist signal to those looking for an excuse to do the same. It will encourage others to restrict our exports, even in unrelated sectors, which only hurts the growth of jobs and paychecks here at home.”

Raising concerns from her district, Rep. Walorski implored Ambassador Lighthizer:

“I would just ask [you] to consider the anxiety from my constituents about the prospect of tariffs and quotas on inputs that they depend on to make RVs, trailers, and all sorts of other products. Could you convey to the President and to Secretary Ross my request that they conduct these investigations and decisions that they’re making thoughtfully, thoroughly, and transparently to determine what the impact of action might be for American companies, to avoid any type of quick action that would hurt these companies?”

Ways and Means Republicans are committed to working with the Trump Administration to modernize NAFTA, open new markets worldwide for American products and services, and hold our competitors accountable through strict enforcement of American trade rules. As Chairman Brady said in closing:

“Mr. Ambassador we look forward to working with you on trade and expanding economic freedom.”

CLICK HERE to learn more about today’s hearing.