President Trump’s trade team was rounded out yesterday when the man at the top, Robert Lighthizer, was finally confirmed by the U.S. Senate to become the U.S. Trade Representative.
Ambassador Lighthizer hits the ground running with a long list of To-Do items, perhaps most notably overseeing the renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), a process that could get underway as early as next week with a formal notification to Congress of his intent to reopen the sprawling deal.
Lighthizer’s views on free trade and agriculture that emerged during his confirmation process did much to reassure the ag sector, upset by what many perceived as reckless rhetoric on trade coming out of the White House.
When asked if the needs of farmers and ranchers could be protected during any tinkering with NAFTA, Lighthizer responded: “I do believe it can be done. I’m not suggesting that it will be easy, but I do believe it can be done.”
“We welcome Ambassador Lighthizer to his new position and trust that any renegotiation of NAFTA will adhere to the guiding principle of ‘First do no harm,’” said Betsy Ward, President and CEO of USA Rice. “Mexico remains our top export market and Canada our fourth. That is because
of NAFTA, not in spite of it.”
Other issues awaiting Lighthizer include a 100 day trade program with China that, at this time, does not look to include U.S. rice, a possible opening up of the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement from which rice was excluded in 2007, and a stepped up emphasis on enforcement of existing trade deals and rooting out bad actors as emphasized by President Trump on the campaign trail and since.