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US, China trade war: Robert Lighthizer to lead Trump delegation in talks

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trump Lighthizer
Trump
US Trade Representative Ambassador Robert Lighthizer, center,
gestures while speaking after President Donald Trump, left,
announced a revamped North American free trade
deal

Pablo Martinez
Monsivais/AP


  • President Donald Trump named US Trade Representative Robert
    Lighthizer as the new lead negotiator in trade talks with China.
  • Lighthizer is the third person to spearhead the Trump
    administration’s talks with China.
  • Lighthizer is significantly more hawkish toward China than
    the previous lead negotiator, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.
  • He opposed China’s entry into the World Trade Organization in
    the 1990s and more recently advocated for the currently imposed
    tariffs on roughly $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.

President Donald Trump named US Trade Representative Robert
Lighthizer as the lead negotiator in follow-up talks China over
trade, elevating the long-time China hawk to the most critical
role over the next few months.

The move could dampen investor and business enthusiasm over

the preliminary trade agreement
Trump made with Chinese
President Xi Jinping at the G20 summit last weekend.

Lighthizer is also the third point person since trade
negotiations with the Chinese began in 2017, following Commerce
Secretary Wilbur Ross and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin,
neither of whom were able to strike a concrete, long-term deal
with Beijing.

The appointment of Lighthizer
reportedly took Chinese officials
by surprise, as Lighthizer
has a more critical view of China than Mnuchin.

According to
the Wall Street Journal
, Lighthizer opposed China’s entry
into the World Trade Organization in the 1990s and more recently
was a driving force behind Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on
roughly $250 billion worth of Chinese goods.

Lighthizer’s office was also responsible for the original report
earlier this year on China’s alleged theft of US intellectual
property that formally kicked off the tariff process. In a
follow-up report in November, the US Trade Representative’s
office reiterated that China had made no progress in addressing
the underlying issues that led to the trade war.


Read more:

The US-China trade war might still rage on despite a breakthrough
deal between Trump and Xi»

During his time in President Ronald Reagan’s administration,
Lighthizer was also known as a hard-nosed negotiator. In one
famous incident, Lighthizer
smoked an entire box of Cuban cigars
as a tactic to throw off
counterparts from the then-Soviet Union. During the same period,

Lighthizer became known
among Japanese officials as
the missile man” after throwing a set of proposals back as
a paper airplane.

Trump appears to have confidence in the US Trade
Representative after Lighthizer was able to reach a deal to
update the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) with
Mexico and Canada.

White House officials downplayed Lighthizer’s role, saying that
the talks would be a team effort.

And, by the way, I personally — I’m very happy that Bob
Lighthizer is going to be running the trade negotiating side and
the monitoring side. And again, Mr. Mnuchin will be very
involved. Others of us will be very involved
,” Larry
Kudlow, the director of the National Economic Council and
pro-free trade advocate, said in a conference call Monday.

Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross told CNBC on Tuesday that the
concern over Lighthizer’s stronger stance on China was overblown
since the US Trade Representative always takes the lead in trade
negotiations.

Bob
Lighthizer by statute is
the official negotiator for
the 
US on trade deals, just as he was in
the US-M
exico-Canada deal,” Ross said. “So I don’t know
why anybody 
would have been that
surprised 
that he was the lead
negotiator. 
He has been acting in
that 
capacity, so that’s not really news.”

Talks between the two sides are expected to start in mid-December
after a 90-day delay before US tariffs on $200 billion worth of
Chinese goods could increase from 10% to 25%. If the sides don’t
reach a deal by that point, Trump has also threatened to impose
tariffs on the remaining $267 billion worth of Chinese goods that
are currently not subject to duties.

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