Trade Cases

Congressional Members Charge “Lack of Clarity” from White House

Written by Sandy Williams

Meetings last week between the House Ways and Means Committee and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer failed to reassure congressional members that a clear strategy on trade exists within the administration.

Neither Republican nor Democrats’ concerns were assuaged after discussions with Lighthizer on trade issues that included China, NAFTA negotiations, and Section 232 tariffs on steel and aluminum.

Lighthizer told committee members that “change requires disruption” and acknowledged the committee’s concerns regarding economic fallout from U.S. tariffs and tariff retaliation.

Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ) called the U.S. trade strategy “chaotic” and unclear.

“This is an appearance of clarity cloaked by total chaos,” he told reporters following the meeting. He added, “And we have major problems now, because we are distancing ourselves from our allies for no reason whatsoever. Not only in terms of the tariffs issue, but in terms of how we treat our allies compared to who we know the major culprit is in all of this: China.”

Pascrell’s comments regarding tariffs on allies were seconded by Chairman Kevin Brady (R-TX) who called the trade actions “misguided.”

“My message remains the same: Our trade practices need to hit the right target, which is China and its unfair trade practices, not our allies, and certainly not Americans,” said Pascrell in a statement on June 7. “But the administration’s recent actions don’t achieve that goal. I continue to urge the administration to extend tariff exemptions to Canada, Mexico, the EU, and other important partners while fixing the broken product exclusion process needed by our manufacturers and workers to remain competitive.”

Rep. Ron Kind (D-WI) told reporters, “I think most members are just trying to convey to him that we get a sense of chaos here, that most of us were surprised with last week’s announcements moving forward on the [Section 232] tariffs, with no reports to Congress, no heads up, no basis for the underlying justification for doing it, but just suddenly saying, ‘Alright, we are going to lift the temporary halt on it and just move forward.’ It caught a lot of people by surprise.”

Committee members said no clear plan for NAFTA was offered by Lighthizer at the meeting, although a tentative date of July 1 was proposed by the administration for a conclusion of negotiations. It was unlikely that an agreement could be formulated that soon, said Kind, who suggested “we are looking at some time next year, best-case scenario.”

In comments to reporters in Quebec on Friday, President Trump claimed a deal on NAFTA was close.

“Two things can happen on NAFTA,” said Trump. “We’ll either leave it the way it is as a threesome deal with Canada, the United States and Mexico, and change it very substantially…or we’re going to make a deal directly with Canada, directly with Mexico.”

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