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Opening Statement of USTR Robert Lighthizer to the Senate Finance Committee

March 12, 2019

Washington, DC

AMBASSADOR LIGHTHIZER:                                                                                                                                                                                 

Chairman Grassley, Ranking Member Wyden, distinguished members of the committee: It’s a pleasure to be here today. I should begin with saying that I am inspired by and agree almost completely with both your statement, Mr. Chairman, and the Ranking Member’s statement. I think they summarized and make in many ways unnecessary my own statement. Nonetheless, I will read it.

Before I get into talking about the WTO, I would like to note that under President Trump’s leadership, U.S. trade has been surging from 2016 to 2018; total exports have grown by 12.8 percent.  During that same time, imports grew by 14.8 percent.  Last year, we exported almost $2.5 trillion worth of goods and services.

Further, last year alone, we created 264,000 manufacturing jobs – the highest figure in 21 years. And our economy is growing at a rate faster – substantially faster – than any other country in the G-7. 

As you all know, we’ve had a very busy trade agenda. We renegotiated KORUS. We’ve been working with Congress on the newly-renegotiated USMCA agreement. We are in discussions with Europe, Japan, the United Kingdom, and several other countries.

In addition, we have been very active at the WTO. We work closely with the very-able Director-General, Roberto Azevedo, and we are busy on the various standing committees that do the actual day-to-day work of the organization. The WTO is a very important organization, as you say, but we believe it has significant deficiencies.  

First, over the last 20 years, it has migrated from a negotiation forum to a litigation forum. This development has unfortunate consequences. Developing new trade agreements has been stifled, and the commitment to the organization has been undermined.

Second, many countries have very high “bound” tariffs and other barriers, and it is difficult to see how pressure can be created to get them to reduce either.  

Third, many members have gotten into the habit of not living up to their basic obligations. The requirements for subsidy notification by members is often ignored, and numerous transparency obligations go unfulfilled on a regular basis. Another problem is the anomaly that many members self-declare themselves to be developing countries even though they are among, in many cases, the richest in the world.  

Fourth, the dispute settlement process is in need of reform. We have an Appellate Body that often does not follow its own rules. The Administration has complained about this, as have its previous administrations. I have some quotes and the like; I’ll do it another time. In spite of these challenges, the Administration is working diligently to jump-start new negotiations in the areas of digital trade, fishing subsidies, and other areas. 

We look forward to working with the Committee to solve these and other very important trade issues.