Lighthizer on NAFTA: ‘We still have a ways to go’
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testified before the House Ways and Means Committee Wednesday, taking questions on the negotiations to update the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), as well as on the need to target enforcement actions such as the new steel and aluminum tariffs without harming American manufacturers and producers.
In his statement, Lighthizer noted that there have been seven rounds of NAFTA talks with Canada and Mexico.
“I believe we have made a great deal of progress — but we still have a ways to go,” Lighthizer said. “I have urged our trading partners to recognize that time is short if we are to complete a deal in time for consideration by this Congress.”
Committee Chairman Kevin Brady, R-Texas, pointed to the importance of maintaining the Investor-State Dispute Settlement (ISDS) mechanism in NAFTA, and announced that he and more than 100 other Republican lawmakers sent a letter to Lighthizer on the need to keep neutral international arbitration procedures in place to resolve conflicts.
“Your client is Congress,” Brady told Lighthizer. “And speaking out for our ag community that wants you to have America’s back when they have to invest in other countries to win customers.”
“Energy, manufacturing, technology, services — every key industry in America that has to compete against China and the rest of the world and other countries — is saying we need to have their back when they make their investments,” Brady said.
Lighthizer noted President Donald Trump’s intention to reform the multilateral trading system, pointing to the World Trade Organization.
“For too long, the WTO has failed to promote trade liberalization,” Lighthizer said. “Too many members remain committed to an outdated Doha Round agenda that is incapable of addressing modern issues like digital trade. Too many members also think that they can get their way through litigation, rather than negotiation. Perhaps most worryingly of all, the WTO has proven to be wholly inadequate to deal with China’s version of a state-dominated economy that rejects market principles.”
Lighthizer said the administration intends to “aggressively pursue other potential free trade agreements,” including with the United Kingdom and Japan. “We also have hopes for potential FTAs in Africa and Southeast Asia.”
“Given this agenda, the president will soon ask the Congress for an extension of Trade Promotion Authority until 2021,” Lighthizer said.
Members of the committee also expressed concerns about Trump’s recently announced steel and aluminum tariffs.
Trade Subcommittee Chairman Dave Reichert, R-Wash., said to Lighthizer, “In targeting unfair trade practices, we must take a targeted approach and work in cooperation with our global partners. We cannot take actions that put our consumers, manufacturers, and exporters at risk.”
“It is American manufacturers and consumers who will be hurt by an ineffective exclusion process and the placement of tariffs on imports. I implore you to think about my constituents. For example, the family in Maple Valley who will face higher prices, the manufacturer in Auburn who will pay more or lose access to imported parts, and the apple exporter in Wenatchee who will suffer from retaliation.”
Brady said it is important for the administration “to aggressively fight” to lower barriers to trade for American workers and producers.
“I see significant wins for [the] U.S. in energy, agriculture, telecommunications, digital trade, services, technology and manufacturing because you’re being so aggressive in these areas,” he told Lighthizer. “We appreciate the work there.”