Politics

Conflict Of Interest For USTR Nominee Holding Up Trump’s Plan To Reopen NAFTA

Robert Lighthizer, President Trump’s choice for U.S. trade representative, is still awaiting Senate confirmation. The sticking point: Lighthizer’s past work for Brazil in trade negotiations with the U.S.

President Trump has pushed back the start date for renegotiating the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) several times over the past few months, in large part because the Senate has yet to vote on the confirmation of his nominee for U.S. trade representative, attorney Robert Lighthizer. By law, only the U.S. trade representative can notify Congress of the president’s intent to renegotiate a trade agreement.

“One of the requirements in terms of what the USTR must satisfy is that he has not worked for any foreign interest involved in a negotiation with the United States government,” says Stephen Lande, president of Manchester Trade, a trade policy advisory firm based in Washington, D.C. “And Bob Lighthizer was involved actually in a fairly minor negotiation with Brazil. So one needs a waiver for that in order for the Senate to be in a position to consider his nomination and, of course, approve his nomination.”

Lande says Trump seems to be counting on such a waiver being attached to a must-pass measure to fund the federal government.

The Houston area has a big stake in what happens next. “There’s $18 billion traded between Houston alone and Mexico, which is more than many countries trade between each other,” says Kenneth Smith Ramos, who heads the trade and NAFTA office at the Mexican Embassy to the U.S.

Once the president notifies Congress of his intent to reopen NAFTA, that will trigger a 90-day countdown. Three-way talks with Mexico and Canada could begin by mid-summer.

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Andrew Schneider

Andrew Schneider

Politics and Government Reporter

Andrew heads Houston Public Media’s coverage of national, state, and local elections. He also reports on major policy issues before the Texas delegations in the U.S. House and Senate, as well as the Texas governorship, the state legislature, and county and city governments. Before taking up his current post, Andrew...

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