New U.S. Trade Representative Will Have a Busy Schedule

Days after being sworn in as the new U.S. Trade Representative, Robert Lighthizer will be traveling to Vietnam to attend a meeting of trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation countries.

Many of these countries at the May 20–21 gathering were members of the Trans-Pacific Partnership—the 12-nation free-trade agreement that President Donald Trump decided not to support and hasn’t gone into effect.

The TPP signatories have been trying to figure how to move on with the free-trade agreement, which included countries including Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Canada, Malaysia and Singapore.

Later this year, Lighthizer will be part of the renegotiation of the North American Free-Trade Agreement between the United States, Mexico and Canada, which has been in effect since 1994.

Lighthizer was confirmed by the U.S. Senate by an 82–14 vote on May 11 and sworn in at the White House by Vice President Mike Pence on May 15. This is the last Cabinet position in the Trump administration to be filled.

“President Donald Trump made a promise to the American people to fight for trade that puts America first,” Pence said. “In choosing Robert Lighthizer as U.S. Trade Representative, President Trump is keeping his promise to put America first.”

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative is responsible for developing and coordinating U.S. international trade, commodity and direct investment policy and overseeing negotiations with other countries over trade issues.

His appointment was praised by textile, apparel and retail trade groups including the American Apparel & Footwear Association, the National Council of Textile Organizations and the Retail Industry Leaders Association.

“In my estimation, Ambassador Lighthizer is likely the most qualified individual ever to be confirmed to this important post,” said Auggie Tantillo, president and chief executive of the National Council of Textile Organizations.

In a letter to U.S. senators, the AAFA said Lighthizer’s nomination was welcome by the manufacturing industry given his long experience working to eliminate foreign market-distorting unfair trade practices and creating new opportunities in international markets both during his time in government and the private sector.

Trade negotiations are nothing new to Lighthizer. Under President Ronald Reagan, he was the deputy USTR, and he has long worked as a trade attorney and partner at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom in Washington, D.C., where he practiced international trade law for more than 30 years.

He was lead counsel for scores of trade enforcement cases and was a well-known advocate for the type of “America First” trade policies supported by Trump.

During his tenure as deputy USTR, Lighthizer negotiated more than two dozen bilateral international agreements, including agreements on steel, automobiles and agricultural products. During that time, he also served as vice chairman of the Board of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

Lighthizer said he was honored to be working for fair and free trade that benefits all Americans. “By expanding export market access through negotiating good trade deals and enforcing U.S. trade laws,” Lighthizer said, “we can raise wages and help level the playing field for American workers, farmers, ranchers and job creators.”

Lighthizer earned a bachelor’s degree at Georgetown University and his juris doctor degree from Georgetown University Law Center. He is a native of Ashtabula, Ohio.