Trump trade chief faces Congress grilling on path to China deal


WASHINGTON: President Donald Trump’s top trade envoy will be in the congressional hot seat for two days this week, giving lawmakers the chance to grill him about the prospects for a deal with China, as well as various punitive measures threatened by his boss.

US Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer is up before the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, for the first time since trade talks with Beijing collapsed in early May. That’s when Trump decided to increase tariffs on $200 billion in Chinese imports, and threatened to target the remaining $300 billion with duties of as much as 25%.

Lighthizer will testify before the House Ways and Means Committee on Wednesday.

China Meeting

Analysts expect the China tariffs will be the hottest topic at the hearings. Investors are eager for clues as to whether Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping will meet at this month’s Group of 20 summit in Japan -- and possibly break the deadlock.

Administration officials and the president himself have downplayed expectations of a meeting, with Trump saying last week that "it doesn’t matter” if Xi shows up.

USMCA Progress

Another focus will be the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which Trump negotiated as a replacement for Nafta. Lighthizer has been working closely with Democrats, particularly with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to resolve concerns about the new accord -- including labor and environmental standards, as well as drug pricing -- before it can come up for a vote.

U.S. Chamber of Commerce trade lobbyist John Murphy said he expects Lighthizer to reiterate his willingness to work with Congress on the deal, but that details of the negotiations with Democrats will remain behind closed doors.

While business leaders and some in the White House are pushing for a vote before Congress goes on vacation in August, Democrats say they don’t want to rush the process.

Auto Threat

One issue hanging over Trump’s trade agenda, and his negotiations with Japan and the European Union, is his threat to slap tariffs on autos and car parts. Last month, Trump said he would delay that decision, while instructing Lighthizer to negotiate agreements that would reduce imports of those goods.

The auto threat has sparked a bipartisan push for legislation to limit Trump’s tariff authority. The effort has been led by Senate Finance Committee chairman Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, who has publicly and vocally opposed the president’s use of a national security justification for the tariffs.

Grassley has said he’s aiming to build a veto-proof majority for a bill that would rein Trump in. - Bloomberg
   

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