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Opening Statement of USTR Robert Lighthizer to the House Ways and Means Committee

March 21, 2018


Washington, DC


Thank you Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Neal and members of the committee. I am pleased to be here today. We at USTR greatly appreciate the expertise of the Members of this committee. We’re grateful for all the time you give us in working up truly bipartisan trade policy – the effort you’ve helped us with on NAFTA and the many issues we face.

Before I continue with my statement, let me just say since I generally, when I come here, complain about the fact that I have no deputies, I in fact have deputies now. So I thought it would be appropriate since they’re all going to be senior members of your staffs that I probably ought to at least have you know who’s working for you now besides me.

Jeffrey Gerrish, is our Deputy for Europe, the Middle East and Asia. C.J. Mahoney is our Deputy for Africa, China, the Western Hemisphere, and he’s also going to do Investment and Services. And he will be our transparency officer. You’ll recall that we selected an appointed official as our transparency officer. Those are the two people I wanted you to focus on, if you would, since they are brand new.

First, I would like to draw the Committee’s attention to the fact that this year, the U.S. trade deficit in goods and services rose to $565 billion, and in goods alone it was $811 billion.  Of course, there are lots of causes for these numbers but the President believes – and I also agree – that long-standing trade deficits to some extent reflect market distortions, and that they are having a negative effect on U.S. workers and businesses. We also of course have a massive goods trade deficit with China which we should speak about at some point – $375 billion, so the numbers essentially got worse last year.

I know that the Members here have a variety of views on these figures.  But the President believes they raise significant concerns.  They indicate that sometimes the global rules of trade make it harder for U.S. companies to compete and specifically to export.  The trade deficit also indicates that in the United States the costs of globalization are falling most heavily on blue-collar workers, and this is something that is bad for the economy and bad for the society. Finally, they tend to undermine the support for the global trading system. Trade deficits are a problem.

Quickly, I would outline the President’s Trade Agenda. First, we at USTR will support the President’s National Security Strategy. If you haven’t looked at that I would recommend it to you.  That means that our trade policy will help to build a stronger America, preserve our national sovereignty, respond to hostile economic competitors, recognize the importance of technology, and seek opportunities to work with other countries that share our goals.

Second, for U.S. companies and workers to be competitive in overseas markets, we need a strong and robust economy at home – and I commend the committee for the work they did on the tax cut bill.

Third, we are negotiating trade deals that will work for all Americans.  As the members of this Committee well know, the President directed us to seek significant changes to NAFTA.  We have already held seven rounds of talks with our partners in Canada and Mexico, and I believe that we have made a great deal of progress.  We have also begun discussions, as most of you know, with South Korea on updating KORUS.

Now that we have a full team of deputies, we intend to aggressively pursue other potential free trade agreements.  We have a trade working group with the United Kingdom. We have told Japan that we are interested in having a free trade agreement with them at the appropriate time.  We are prepared to explore the possible countries in Africa and Southeast Asia that might be appropriate for us to enter into a free trade agreement. 

And as you said Mr. Chairman, the President has asked for the extension of Trade Promotion Authority to accomplish this.

Fourth, we are enforcing our trade laws.  The President indicated he would use all available trade laws to defend U.S. workers, farmers, and ranchers against unfair trade, and he is in fact doing that.

Finally, we seek to reform the multilateral trading system.  For too long, the WTO has failed to promote trade liberalization.  Too many WTO members view it as a litigation forum, and not a negotiation forum. 

In short, USTR – under the direction of President Trump – is seeking to build a better, fairer system of global trade that will lead to higher living standards for all Americans.  Thank you, and I look forward to taking your questions.