Trump’s New Trade Rep. Struggles To Push ‘Fair Trade’

REUTERS/Hoang Dinh Nam

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Ted Goodman Contributor
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U.S. trade representative Robert Lighthizer disagreed with Asian and Pacific countries over protectionism during his first overseas trip as the nation’s top diplomat on trade policy Sunday.

U.S. officials attending the Asian Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in Hanoi, Vietnam over the weekend, opposed language that called for all member-countries to “fight against all forms of protectionism,” according to Reuters.

The U.S. broke away from the 20 other members of APEC, opposing the statement “protectionist trends that could have strong impacts on the process of global economic recovery and economic integration.”

Instead, the U.S. wanted to include references to “unfair trade practices” and the removal of “barriers that distort trade to ensure that it is both free and fair,” Reuters reported. The disagreement meant that no joint statement was released Sunday.

The dispute is consistent with President Donald Trump’s America first mantra. The president has embraced protectionist principles that have generally been avoided by contemporary presidential administrations — both Republican and Democrat. Frustrations with the United States’ exit from the Trans-Pacific Partnership may have exacerbated tensions between the United States and her Asian counterparts.

The Asian and Pacific countries moved forward with the Trans-Pacific partnership (TPP), despite America’s exit. Trump officially removed the United States from TPP talks as one of his first actions as president.

“We’re focused on how we can move ahead with 11 countries,” New Zealand Trade Minister Todd McClay told Reuters. Keeping Vietnam and Malaysia on board is a priority for the Pacific region, as the two countries agreed to the TPP in hopes of gaining better access to the U.S. market.

The dispute at APEC follows similar moves by U.S. officials during global economic forums since Trump’s election. U.S. Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin broke with longstanding tradition by failing to renew a commitment to resist all forms of protectionism during a March meeting of G20 finance ministers in Baden-Baden Germany. (RELATED: Trump’s World: G20 Ditches Anti-Protectionist Pledge)

“I understand what the president’s desire is and his policies, and I negotiated them from here,” Mnuchin said at the time of the G20 finance meeting. Trump has said that he intends to focus on bilateral trade agreements, rather than large, multi-lateral trade deals.

China is taking notice of the United States’ shift on global economic policy. China’s Ministry of Commerce extended an olive branch to American officials Monday.

China’s commerce minister Zhong Shan told Lighthizer that the two sides should strengthen cooperation and manage trade disputes, according to a statement from China’s Ministry of Commerce and reported by the Daily Mail.

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