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

February 27, 2019

Washington, DC


Mr. Chairman, Ranking Member Brady, distinguished members of the Committee: it is a pleasure to be here today and to discuss this very important issue.

I think at the beginning it is appropriate to take a minute and remind ourselves that with all our pressing problems, we have a very successful economy.  Under President Trump’s leadership we are growing much faster than any G7 nation. We have created millions of new jobs – significantly, to me, 500,000 manufacturing jobs, and we have seen two million people join the workforce – these are people who were not in it before. These are real working people moving from despair to hope and their kids from insecurity to a future. A lot needs to be done, and I salute all members of both parties who are working so diligently on issues of worker training, opioid addiction as well as trade and other issues.

We are here to talk about China.  I agree with those who see our large and growing trade deficit and their unfair trade practices – including technology transfer issues, failure to protect intellectual property, large subsidies, cyber theft of commercial secrets and other problems – as major threats to our economy.  We can compete with anyone in the world but we must have rules – enforced rules – that make sure market outcomes, not state-capitalism and technology theft, determine winners.

President Trump has for years recognized this very serious – and I would say existential – problem, and he is determined to take action to defend our workers, farmers, and ranchers and our economic system.

He directed me to conduct a study under Section 301.  After months of hard work, the President ordered that certain tariffs be put in place.  Because of his insight and grit, we are in a position to deal with this problem for the first time after decades of government inaction.

I would like to note that as with many extremely important issues facing our country, prescience has been bipartisan.  The Speaker was an early, forceful, and foresighted leader on this issue.  I have admired her perception and hard work over the years and have counseled with her regularly in my current position.

I would just like to read something briefly. Faced with the PNTR [Permanent Normal Trade Relations] vote in April of 2000, the Speaker said:

It is incumbent upon all of us in the public and private sectors to work for free and open trade with China that is real. The U.S.-China bilateral WTO agreement, however, is seriously deficient in substance, implementation, and enforcement. This issue is too important for our economy to be based on a pattern of broken promises, not proven performance. China can become a member of the WTO without Congress having to surrender its right to U.S.-China trade review annually. There is no reason why we should permanently surrender that leverage at this time.

I ask: if her position had prevailed, how different would things be right now?  There are many other examples of bipartisan leadership, including a lot of people on this committee and I’m going to get into it and answer the questions if it’s relevant.

Let me close by saying that we have engaged in a very intense, extremely serious, and very specific negotiation with China on crucial structural issues for several months now.  We are making real progress.  If we can complete this effort – and again I say “if” – and can reach a satisfactory solution to the all-important outstanding issue of enforceability as well as some other concerns, we might be able to have an agreement that helps us turn the corner in our economic relationship with China.  Let me be clear: much still needs to be done both before an agreement is reached and, more importantly, after it is reached, if one is reached.

I want to thank all Members for your bipartisan approach on this seminal effort, and I look forward to continuing our work together. I want to say that if this was not a bipartisan view, we would not be having the success that we are having.       

Thank you Mr. Chairman, thank you Ranking Member. I look forward to your questions.