Senate confirms USTR nominee, making NAFTA 2.0's start imminent
- The U.S. Senate confirmed the nomination of Robert Lighthizer to be United States Trade Representative by a vote of 82-14 last week.
- The nominee's confirmation had been held up due to ethical concerns regarding Lighthizer's previous work in support of the Brazilian government, and for not being enough of a free trader, POLITICO reports.
- Now confirmed, Lighthizer is expected to advance President Donald Trump's mission to renegotiate the terms of NAFTA with Canada and Mexico, seeking a better deal to support U.S. interests.
Trump's promise to renegotiate or withdraw from NAFTA was a cornerstone of his campaign, so much so that the President included the promise in his 100-day contract with the American voter. Now, 115 days later, the promise may finally come to pass, thanks to Lighthizer's confirmation.
The delay was hardly the administration's doing. In fact, the administration has consistently signaled it is ready to jumpstart negotiations as soon as possible.
In March, a draft letter from the White House to Congress announcing the President's intent to renegotiate NAFTA was leaked to congress. But first, a USTR would be required to lead such a process. Then, as the President's 100th day neared, rumors of Trump's intention to withdraw from NAFTA took the world by surprise — sparking a frenzy that culminated in Mexico's and Canada's heads of state persuading Trump to stay the course.
In fact, few would have expected Lighthizer's confirmation to be held up to such a degree. A series of issues plagued the nomination, even as the nominee had rather strong bipartisan support, despite some high-profile detractors, including Sen. John McCain.
Now, only one thing matters: The White House is empowered to begin pursuing its NAFTA agenda, and will likely do so fervently. Absent further complications, this week Lighthizer will meet with Congress to draft and officially send a letter notifying the body of the President's intention to renegotiate the deal. After a series of procedural steps and 90 days later, talks between NAFTA parties may begin. In other words, in a best case scenario, talks would begin mid-August if a letter is sent to Congress this week.
Lighthizer's confirmation should be a cause for celebration for all stakeholders, as it marks the end of scheduling uncertainty for what is already likely to be a protracted, complex and controversial process.
- U.S. Senate Roll Call Vote 115th Congress - 1st Session On the Nomination (Confirmation Robert Lighthizer, of Florida, to be United States Trade Representative )
- POLITICO's Morning Trade Lighthizer's Long Road Ahead
- American Shipper Lighthizer confirmed as USTR chief
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