Senator Lankford Questions US Trade Representative Lighthizer on Trade

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WASHINGTON, DC –Senator James Lankford (R-OK) today questioned US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer during an Appropriations Subcommittee hearing on Commerce, Justice, Science, and Related Agencies on the goal to resolve the trade negotiations with our current trade partners and the continued work to open new trade markets.

Yesterday, Lankford met with President Trump at the White House to discuss the current trade negotiations and to urge him and his staff to complete negotiations as quickly as possible in order to restore certainty and pursue fair trade worldwide.


(0:01- 2:30) Lankford: Thanks for your service and what you are trying to be able to take on. You inherited a mess on trade worldwide and there are a lot of issues that are happening, but they all need to be cleaned up. So, the grand challenge is how do we actually get this done? What I would like to hear from you, what has been done to date? What are some of the wins that you already had on trade issues and then what are the priorities, specifically for us and for me in particular, what are we trying to get to? Because it looks like we are trying to increase tariffs everywhere. Is the goal to increase tariffs or is the goal to get tariffs down everywhere?

Rep Lighthizer: …first of all, I think the biggest single thing, and I’ve said this, is that we’re close to having a deal with Mexico. And hopefully, that will lead to a deal with Canada. We have negotiated the successful renegotiation, of course, and then one of the things that I alluded to before…is a whole variety of things we have done. I’ll just mention briefly, we have opened up Guatemala to poultry; we have got in there and negotiated and changed rice in Nicaragua; we have…got the EU to change the way they treat US citrus, in a beneficial way; dried, distilled grain is something that is important to a lot of people, and we have opened up the market in several places and even China got rid of their countervailing duties; rice exports to Columbia, we’ve opened up that market; Corn, also, to Columbia. Pork, Argentina lifted their ban that they’ve had in places for years, and years, and years. Now, they’re accepting US pork. This distilled, dried grains exports, once again, in Vietnam, they had closed our market in 2016. And I could go on. There are a whole bunch of these things. Lamb in Japan, they had a ban on lamb in Japan, and these are the things that no one reads about or knows about but the things we do every day to help agriculture…and many of them, by the way, are coming to us at the request of members of the Congress because of their constituents. And we’re spending a lot of time on them and have a number of successes. Your second questions was… 

(2:30-4:10) Lankford: Second question was the goal—more tariffs or less tariffs. Are we on offense trying to find more markets or are we just trying to fix broken markets?

Rep Lighthizer: What the President wants to do, the President’s fundamental belief is that if we have an environment which we’re competing based on economics not based on artificial barriers to trade, not based on tariffs, not based on subsidies, which is an important part of this because the United States is relatively not a subsidizer, that the honest answer will do very well. And economics will determine these things. Who ends up succeeding and who doesn’t in our own economy and that’s the way that it should be. The questions is, when you don’t have that circumstance? What do you do? What’s your reaction? Until now, I believe the problem has been basically the solution is has been one of nibbling around the edges. I think that’s what’s happened. I’ve followed this for a long, long time and I could talk about it for years and years and years. Not that anyone was selling us down the road or anything. We were just dealing with problems at the edges. …I think this president’s view is, we’ve now gotten to the point where we have the trade deficits so extreme at $800 billion that we just can’t nibble around the edges we have to change. And particularly, with respect to China, where it’s $375 billion, I mean that’s bigger than the GDP of most countries. I mean it’s just enormous. So, what his objective is, and I think he stated it yesterday and he has stated it at number of other occasions, he wants it to be an environment, and we’ll do whatever we need to do to do it, where we don’t have US producers, and companies and farmers and ranchers are not treated unfairly. That they can compete based on economics. That’s what his objective is.

(4:16-5:34) Lankford: I will tell you for the ag folks in my state, they’re looking for more markets and more places to get into. They already have markets that they are in now, and now there is the tariff issues they’re facing as a result of response. They want those to be fixed, but they’re still looking for the new places, more places they can take the product. And as you and I have talked about before, the steel tariffs are helping steel companies in the United States but they are not helping actual construction in the United States. Whether you are building products or whether you are building small offices or stores, or whatever it may be because the cost is going up. …now the cost of construction, once it’s done exceeds the value that you can actually sale into that area. So, all of those things do have a real effect, as you know, and you and I have talked about issues like soft-wood lumber coming from Canada and some of the issues there, paper products coming from Canada and so many other issues that are out there. The target goal is how to get some of these resolved long-term so that we can go start fighting for the new places and the new countries to be able to do business and be on offense again.

Rep Lighthizer: Yeah, I completely agree with you and I guess what’s more important is the President certainly agrees with you on the fundamental direction. And I think he agrees with most Members on how to get there, but it’s…not an easy thing. Directionally, we completely agree with you.