Robert Lighthizer Confirmed as U.S. Trade Representative


After months of delay, the U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination Robert Lighthizer for U.S. Trade Representative. The Thursday vote was 82-14. Kansas Senators Pat Roberts and Jerry Moran voted in favor of Lighthizer’s confirmation. There were some prominent Republican Senators who voted against the nomination including Arizona’s John McCain, Nebraska’s Ben Sasse and Colorado’s Cory Gardner.

Lighthizer, who served as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative in the Reagan Administration, was nominated by President Trump on January 2. Due to Lighthizer’s prior representation of foreign governments with a trade dispute with the United States, he needed to obtain a special waiver to bypass the Lobby Disclosure Act. The act was enacted in 1995 and it prohibits USTR candidates from working on behalf of foreign governments.

Lighthizer considered the final piece for President Trump’s trade will jump right into a very busy trade agenda for the administration. The Trump Administration is expected to formally ask for renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with Canada and Mexico.  Vice President Mike Pence and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross have already visited Japan to talk trade and President Trump’s recent summit with Chinese President Xi Jinping also had trade on the agenda.

Reaction to Lighthizer’s confirmation came quickly after the Senate vote.

U.S. Wheat Associates and National Association of Wheat Growers:

U.S. Wheat Associates (USW) and the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) welcome the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of Robert Lighthizer today as the next U.S. Trade Representative. Fair access to international markets is crucial for America’s productive wheat farmers. Our organizations believe Ambassador Lighthizer fully understands that a strong agricultural economy depends on improving free trade opportunities and rules.

“We look forward to working with Amb. Lighthizer to help build new export opportunities for the farmers we represent,” said David Schemm, NAWG President and a wheat farmer from Sharon Springs, KS. “To that end, we also encourage him to quickly name a new U.S. Agricultural Trade Ambassador to represent agricultural interests in the upcoming re-negotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement and trade negotiations with Asia-Pacific nations.”

During his confirmation process, Amb. Lighthizer said “ensuring that our trading partners meet international trade obligations, especially those of the World Trade Organization, is a core foundation for fairer and freer trade.”

“We wholeheartedly agree,” said Jason Scott, USW Chairman and a wheat farmer from Easton, MD. “A good example is the U.S. dispute case against China’s excessive domestic wheat subsidies that violate its WTO membership agreement. The case recognizes that China’s policy restrains wheat trade and costs farmers in exporting countries billions of dollars every year. It is the kind of enforcement that we think must and will continue under Amb. Lighthizer.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association:

The National Cattlemen’s Beef Association today applauded the U.S. Senate’s confirmation of Robert Lighthizer to be the U.S. Trade Representative. With a growing global marketplace, Craig Uden, NCBA president, said expanding international markets is a top priority for cattlemen.

“International trade is vital to the success of America’s cattle industry and in his new role, Ambassador Lighthizer will serve as our chief negotiator in all trade matters. As Ambassador Lighthizer begins his new job, we urge him to focus his efforts on opening and expanding our access to other markets and preventing any action that may hinder our export growth.”

NCBA particularly encourages Ambassador Lighthizer to prioritize trade with Asian markets by focusing efforts on restoring U.S. beef access to China and by establishing a bilateral trade agreement with Japan.

“As the 13-year ban of U.S. beef into China has been lifted, we encourage U.S. and Chinese government officials to establish a protocol for U.S. beef so that we can start exporting to the world’s most populous nation immediately. Furthermore, Japan is the top export market for U.S. beef, despite a 38.5 percent tariff. With TPP no longer an option to us, we urge Ambassador Lighthizer to prioritize a bi-lateral free trade agreement with Japan so that we can compete fairly with Australian beef producers.”

The North American Free Trade Agreement is another trade deal top of mind for the cattlemen, said Uden, having increased beef sales into Mexico by more than 750 percent.

“NAFTA has been one of the greatest success stories in the history of the American beef industry by removing tariffs on U.S. beef exports to Canada and Mexico and developing roughly $2 billion in annual sales. Any potential renegotiation of NAFTA must protect the market access and scientific standards that NAFTA has provided for the U.S. beef industry for over 20 years,” said Uden.

In Europe, the U.S. beef industry still faces decades-old trade barriers that unfairly discriminate against American producers for using science-based standards in beef production.

Uden said, “Now that Great Britain is leaving the European Union, we will have the opportunity to establish a new trade relationship with British allies. We hope to see the British emerge from behind the iron curtain of bad trade policies like precautionary principle, which plague the EU and discourage market-driven and science-based standards.”

Source: U.S. Wheat Associates, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Cattlemen’s Beef Association