Lighthizer tells Congress he might sue Canada, Mexico

-The Hagstrom Report
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer testifies before the Senate Finance Committee Wednesday afternoon.
Screenshot from Senate video

In his congressional testimony Wednesday, Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he might sue the government of Canada if the United States is not satisfied with its changes to dairy policy, and also might sue the government of Mexico if it does not approve biotech products.

Lighthizer testified for more than four hours before the House Ways and Means Committee and more than three hours before the Senate Finance Committee in what are traditional annual appearances by the trade representative to discuss the administration’s trade policy.

Lighthizer told Ways and Means that if the Canadians throw “shade” on the provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement dairy provisions and American farmers don’t get the benefits they are expecting, “we are going to bring a case against them.”

Still at Ways and Means, Lighthizer noted that Mexico has not approved any biotech products in the last two years and added, “The administration down there has a very strong view.”

“The only way we are going to get that changed is by consultation and possibly a state-to-state dispute settlement,” Lighthizer said.

The U.S. relationship with China is very complicated, Lighthizer said, adding that “my lane is the trade lane” and that he sticks to it.

If he tried to solve all the U.S. problems with China, he said, he wouldn’t solve any problems.

But Lighthizer said that on the phase one trade agreement China “for the most part” is doing what it said it would.

The media “acts like phase one is only a soybean contract,” but the agreement is “much broader,” Lighthizer emphasized. He pointed out the biotech provisions and China’s obligations to make purchases.

The Trump administration expects the phase one agreement “to be honored,” Lighthizer said. China has increased both soybean and cotton purchases and is buying beef, he pointed out.

Lighthizer also said the World Trade Organization is “a mess” that “has failed Americans.”

The next WTO director general should be someone who wants to reform the organization fundamentally and who understands that “an extremely large state-run economy cannot be disciplined under the current WTO rules,” he said.

Lighthizer said he has no other specific qualifications for the next director general but that if he hears “a whiff of anti-Americanism” in a candidate, he would be willing to “veto” the candidate.

On the prospects for a free trade agreement with the United Kingdom, Lighthizer said, “We will have agricultural problems in that negotiation.” The problems will be in the sanitary and phytosanitary area, he added.

There is an attitude in Europe “that American food is unsafe,” Lighthizer said, adding that he hopes the attitude in the UK “is not as deeply shared.”

Lighthizer said he views the attitudes toward American food as thinly veiled protectionism and said that Europeans are “among the best” at protectionism.

The United Kingdom and the European Union will have to agree to grant fair access for American agriculture or the Trump administration won’t agree to deals with them, he said.

At the Senate hearing, Lighthizer told Sen. Tom Carper, D-Del., that chicken washed in chlorine would be an issue in the UK negotiations, but that the Trump administration “won’t bring back an agreement that doesn’t open up the agriculture market.”

Asked by Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., about produce imports from Mexico, Lighthizer said he takes the issue seriously and that he wants to hold in-person hearings in the southeastern states.

Lighthizer also said he considers geographic indicators on agricultural products to be protectionist and that he would consider using trade remedy laws against the Europeans’ use of them.

Toward the end of the Senate hearing, senators asked Lighthizer about a Washington Post story on a new book by John Bolton, the former national security adviser. In the book, Bolton wrote that President Donald Trump in a trade meeting asked Chinese officials to help him get re-elected. Lighthizer denied that the conversation had taken place.