Politics: Trump's Point Man on China Trade Still Trying to Close the Deal - - PressFrom - US

PoliticsTrump's Point Man on China Trade Still Trying to Close the Deal

15:00  25 may  2019
15:00  25 may  2019 Source:   online.wsj.com

Trump didn't start this trade war, China did

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The trade impasse between the U. S . and China reflects the view of the Trump administration—and trade representative Robert Lighthizer—that a deal should focus on long-term changes in Robert Lighthizer’ s push for Beijing to change its laws is typical of the longtime trade lawyer’ s aggressive style.

Close to 10% annual growth in real-estate investment, paired with falling steel output, sent China ’s monthly net steel product exports sliding about 60% between late 2015—when they ran to nearly 10 million metric tons—and late Trump ’ s Point Man on China Trade Is Still Trying to Close the Deal .

Trump's Point Man on China Trade Still Trying to Close the Deal© REUTERSU.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer spoke in October 2018 at the White House with President Trump and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin looking on.

WASHINGTON — As senior officials from the U.S. and China gathered in the Oval Office in February, President Trump had a simple message for his top negotiator, Robert Lighthizer: Close the deal.

“Mr. Lighthizer has done a great job,” Mr. Trump told the negotiating teams, as reporters looked on. “But it’s only a great job, Bob, if you get it finished, right?”

Three months later, the U.S.-China trade deal remains far from finished. Talks broke down this month as Beijing resisted U.S. demands that China change its laws to cement the accord, which Beijing saw as an assault on its sovereignty.

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A trade deal could result in China promising to buy hundreds of billions of dollars of American products. Both sides are trying to iron out an agreement by this week, to coincide with a visit to Washington by Liu He, the Chinese special envoy charged with negotiating the deal , who will begin

President Donald Trump says the US has found agreement on some of the toughest points in trade talks with China . He said a deal could come in the next four weeks, but added some The US and China have been in talks since December trying to end a trade war that is hurting the global economy.

The impasse, after indications that a deal was in sight, reflects the Trump administration’s determination that any deal should focus on long-term changes in Chinese economic and business rules. To trade lawyers and others following the talks, Mr. Lighthizer’s fingerprints are plainly visible.

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Before his appointment in 2017 as U.S. trade representative, Mr. Lighthizer spent three decades as a trade lawyer, largely representing U.S. Steel Corp. and other clients as they petitioned the U.S. government for tariffs on overseas rivals.

According to lawyers who have worked alongside Mr. Lighthizer for years, for him the goal of negotiation isn’t to find a compromise or middle ground, but to pursue aggressively the best deal possible for his client. “He brings the characteristics to the table that you would want,” said Clete Willems, a former Trump administration trade adviser who recently joined law firm Akin, Gump Strauss, Hauer & Feld LLP. “His background suits him uniquely well to the situation” with China.

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WASHINGTON — President Trump ’ s top trade negotiator raised doubts on Tuesday that a trade agreement with China was within reach, saying that “major issues” must still be resolved and that it was impossible at this point to predict success.

Trump ’ s Point Man on Trade Still Trying to Close China Deal . Businesses stung by the fight are hoping Mr. Trump and President Xi Jinping of China can rekindle talks at the Group of 20 leading world economies in late June, similar to when the two men restarted stalled negotiations at last year’s G-20

Not everyone is a fan of the no-holds-barred approach. Miriam Sapiro, former acting U.S. trade representative in the Obama administration, said trade negotiators need to recognize that each side must score wins to reach a successful deal.

“If you’re negotiating an agreement — a trade agreement or really any agreement — an approach of ‘my way or the highway’ is not likely to work,” said Ms. Sapiro, in comments aimed at U.S. trade negotiators in general. “An adversarial hat may work at certain moments, but it’s not necessarily going to be the strategy that gets you across the finish line.”

Like the president, Mr. Lighthizer, 71 years old, eschews complex deals with several countries at once and has sought concessions from China unilaterally, despite many lawmakers’ calls for a multilateral approach that wouldn’t expose U.S. firms to so much risk from trade fights. “The more people you bring into the negotiations, the harder it is,” Mr. Lighthizer told a House committee in March.

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Mr. Lighthizer, who declined a request for an interview, does most of his work behind the scenes. But on occasion he will seize a public platform to attack trading partners’ positions at crucial moments in the negotiations.

In 2018 talks to overhaul the North American Free Trade Agreement, or Nafta, he used a news conference to vent frustration against Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland in Montreal, attacking a Canadian proposal for new auto rules.

Mr. Lighthizer later used some of the Canadian ideas in an auto deal he struck with Mexico. Ms. Freeland called Mr. Lighthizer a “true professional” last week after the two struck a deal to eliminate U.S. steel and aluminum tariffs and Canadian retaliation.

Similarly, Mr. Lighthizer used a rare briefing at his office this month to attack China’s actions at the negotiating table, accusing Chinese officials working on the agreement of a “redrafting of it in ways that pulled back important commitments.”

Mr. Lighthizer cut his teeth in the 1980s as a deputy U.S. trade representative in the Republican Reagan administration. Mr. Reagan backed free trade, but officials including Mr. Lighthizer used America’s economic heft and influence at the latter stages of the Cold War to win concessions that limited U.S. imports from fast-growing emerging markets.

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"The market is still expecting a resolution or at least a modification of some of the worrying aspects out there about the trade relationship," said John Vail, chief global strategist at Nikko Asset Management in New York. Trump ' s Point Man on China Trade Is Still Trying to Close the Deal .

US trade representative Robert Lighthizer says Beijing has broken promises but a deal is still He said President Trump ' s threat to impose new taxes on Chinese exports came after China reneged He said China had tried to substantively change the text of an agreement between the countries as it

Japanese officials at the time called him “missile man” after he took a proposal from Tokyo, made it into a paper airplane, and threw it back at them.

Later, Mr. Lighthizer entered a long period as a trade lawyer at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP, focusing on corporate calls for tariffs. He took a break in 1996 to serve as the treasurer and an adviser to the presidential campaign of former GOP Sen. Bob Dole.

Along the way, he staked out a major position on China, saying in 2010 testimony before the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission that Washington should consider putting aside its low-tariff commitments under the World Trade Organization if China continued to violate market principles.

Thus Mr. Lighthizer was a near-perfect fit for the Trump administration, since Mr. Trump had promised to tear up old agreements and use the threat of tariffs to put together new deals that he said would restore U.S. sovereignty. Recent U.S. trade representatives had leaned more toward free-trade orthodoxy.

U.S. officials say one reason for Mr. Lighthizer’s hard line is the belief that China has ignored previous trade obligations, so he wants to make any new deal as legally binding as possible.

“Our objectives are to foster reform in China,” Mr. Lighthizer told Congress recently, saying the country’s state capitalism and technology thefts were an “existential problem.”

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But Trump has vetoed multiple proposed trade deals with China , choosing to push ahead with tariffs on Chinese goods to gain leverage. “Analysts mostly remain deeply skeptical that a genuine trade deal can be done on this time frame,” economists from Commonwealth Bank of Australia said in a note.

Close the menu. President Trump was confident he would be able to work out a trade deal with Chinese President Xi as they dined in Argentina over the weekend. Trump ’ s use of the phrase “BIG leap forward” to characterize his progress on trade with China was The current tariff of 40 percent is also part of the retaliatory tariffs China has imposed in response to Trump ’ s tariffs on Chinese imports.

The insistence on changing Chinese law is sensitive for Beijing because it represents an imbalance in the agreement: U.S. law isn’t expected to change, because the Trump administration isn’t planning to submit any deal with China to Congress.

“You can’t have American officials going all over China without reciprocity, and we would have to have a similar concession to China for it to make sense,” said Jerome Cohen, an expert in Asian law at New York University’s law school.

There are other issues beyond the legal question, including the Trump administration’s desire to remove tariffs only gradually to ensure China complies with the terms of the deal.

Politics and geopolitics are also in play in both countries. Mr. Trump, who was elected in part by promising to be tough on China, could also be returning to a more hawkish approach as he prepares for the 2020 campaign.

“If Bob can’t get a deal, there may not be a deal to be had,” said Michael Wessel, a trade consultant and member of the U.S.-China Economic and Security Review Commission.

Write to William Mauldin at [email protected]

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