Lighthizer Committed to Meaningful Structural Change in U.S.-China Trade Deal

| Photo courtesy of U.s. Department of Agriculture

The U.S. won’t settle for quick and easy solutions under the USTR’s lead.

U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer held firm in his resolve that a U.S.-China trade agreement must fully address China’s unfair trade practices, including intellectual property theft, forced technology transfers and industrial subsidies, during his testimony before the House Ways & Means Committee Wednesday.

Though President Donald Trump’s recent comments regarding negotiations have signaled that he may be willing to settle for a weak trade agreement, wasting substantial bipartisan momentum behind current negotiations, Lighthizer asserted that the president and he at least concur that whatever the agreement conditions, they must be enforceable.   

“What the president wants is an agreement that number one is enforceable,” said Lighthizer. “What we want is fair trade. That requires structural change, and that has to be enforceable.”

The enforcement mechanism that would help hold the Chinese accountable must allow the U.S. to “take proportional action unilaterally,” according to Lighthizer.

Though Trump decided to cancel a tariff increase on Chinese imports scheduled for March 1, citing “substantial progress” in U.S.-China negotiations, Lighthizer credited the president with strengthening the America’s advantage in the talks by creating “enormous amount of leverage.” Indeed, the eyes of the world now scrutinize China, resulting in a unique opportunity for meaningful change in trade relations.

Nonetheless, Members of Congress, while praising Lighthizer for his work to address the serious threat China poses, expressed concern that the president might relent in order to win a far easier to negotiate purchase agreement with China. Such an agreement would neglect the systemic problems at the root of U.S.-China trade inequities – an outcome that Lighthizer vehemently rejected as his own objective during the hearing.  

As Lighthizer stated in his opening remarks:

“Much still needs to be done—both before an agreement is reached and, most importantly, after an agreement is reached, if an agreement is reached.”

BONUS TRADE INSIGHT: During Lighthizer’s testimony, Members also inquired about another pending trade agreement — the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement currently being considered by Congress.

“We want to very much to work out an agreement with Canada and Mexico, and we’re in the process of doing that,” said Lighthizer. “Whether we’ll succeed or not, I don’t know, but it certainly is my hope that we’ll do that.”