U.S. President-elect Donald Trump on Tuesday named veteran steel industry trade lawyer Robert Lighthizer, a harsh critic of China's trade practices, to be his chief trade negotiator, responsible for better deals aimed at reducing U.S. trade deficits.
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Trump announced his selection in a statement from his transition team on Tuesday, saying Lighthizer would help "fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first."Lighthizer is a former deputy U.S. trade representative during the Reagan administration, where he helped to stem the tide of imports from Japan in the 1980s with threats of quotas and punitive tariffs.
He returns to lead the agency after nearly three decades as a lawyer representing U.S. steelmakers and other companies in anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases, helping to establish import duties that have reduced Chinese steel imports by billions of dollars.
Lighthizer, who is with the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom, has argued in public testimony that China has failed to live up to commitments made in 2001 when it joined the World Trade Organization and that more aggressive tactics are needed to "force change in the system", even if it means deviating from WTO rules.
"Years of passivity and drift among U.S. policymakers have allowed the U.S.��-China trade deficit to grow to the point where is widely recognized as a major threat to our economy," Lighthizer wrote in 2010 testimony to Congress's U.S-China Economic and Security Review Commission.
Lighthizer is regarded as an experienced tactician with an intimate knowledge of trade tools that were widely used before the WTO was created in 1995, including "Section 301" tariffs that were used against Japan in the 1980s to stem a tide of imports of Japanese steel and vehicles.
(Additional reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Susan Heavey and Chizu Nomiyama)