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Trump names Robert Lighthizer to head trade negotiations effort

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President-elect Trump's pick for U.S. Trade Representative has experience fighting for U.S. manufacturing, ag interests.

President-elect Donald Trump continues to surprise with some of his cabinet picks, announcing he will nominate an attorney who has criticized the trade policies of some conservatives to be his U.S. Trade Representative.

Robert Lighthizer, deputy U.S. trade representative in the Reagan administration, has more recently been working to promote “market-opening trade actions on behalf of U.S. companies seeking access to foreign markets,” according to his law-firm biography.

In 2008, Lighthizer wrote an opinion article for the New York Times criticizing Republican presidential nominee John McCain. McCain, a senator from Arizona, and other conservatives, such as the late Sen. Jesse Helms, for their trade policies, according to Lighthizer’s writings.

“Mr. McCain may be a conservative. But his unbridled free-trade policies don’t help make that case,” Lighthizer wrote at the time, suggesting that free trade had long been popular among liberals.

“Moreover, many American conservatives have opposed free trade. Jesse Helms, the most outspoken conservative in the Senate for three decades, was no free trader. Neither was Alexander Hamilton, who could be considered the founder of American conservatism.”

“Ambassador Lighthizer is going to do an outstanding job representing the United States as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first,” the president-elect said in a statement announcing his selection.

“He has extensive experience striking agreements that protect some of the most important sectors of our economy, and has repeatedly fought in the private sector to prevent bad deals from hurting Americans. He will do an amazing job helping turn around the failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity.”

Some observers believe Trump will move away from the multi-lateral trade deals such as the unsuccessful Doha Round of the World Trade Organization and the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP, which President Obama had hoped would pass Congress before he left office, and move to more country-to-country negotiations.

Lighthizer’s selection was applauded by farm groups such as the American Farm Bureau Federation, one of the major supporters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and a trade agreement with the European Union countries that was being negotiated as President Obama finished his term.

“The American Farm Bureau Federation looks forward to working with United States Trade Representative nominee Robert Lighthizer,” the AFBF said in a statement. “Mr. Lighthizer has had a long and distinguished career in trade, working in the White House, Senate and private sector to assure favorable trading conditions for American goods and services.

“America’s farmers and ranchers know unfair regulations, steep tariffs and senseless non-tariff barriers undermine our exports. We must work together to remove these obstacles to prosperity and identify new global opportunities that will benefit American agriculture.”

Other organizations such as the Alliance for American Manufacturing, also voiced support for the nomination.

“Robert Lighthizer is a great pick for U.S. Trade Representative,” said the AAM’s Scott Paul, a leading critic of the Obama administration’s trade policies. “I am hopeful he will use his new role to continue to stand up for American workers and manufacturers who have been hurt by unfair trade.

“Mr. Lighthizer fought to secure anti-dumping and countervailing duties against foreign companies who were flouting U.S. trade law. This leveled the playing field for U.S. workers and saved middle class jobs. He also worked to open overseas markets for U.S. companies and served as a deputy U.S. trade representative during the Reagan administration — experience that will serve him well in his new role.

The AAM president said Lighthizer’s selection as USTR is hopefully a signal that the incoming Trump administration “intends to take on trade cheats like China, but the proof is always in the policy.”

The president-elect has indicated he will involve other cabinet members, including Wilbur Ross, his nominee to be secretary of commerce, in trade negotiations. He has also named Peter Navarro, an economist and frequent critic of China’s trade policies, to the new White House National Trade Council.

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