Robert E. Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, on Thursday said it could take some time before the administration achieves its desired goals from an escalating standoff over tariffs with China.
Mr. Lighthizer did express hope that the U.S. is closing in on a deal to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but said China is going to be a “longer-term problem.”
“That isn’t to say we’re going to be in a trade war with China, in my judgment. But I think we have to change the dynamic,” Mr. Lighthizer told lawmakers on Capitol Hill.
In response to what the Trump administration has slammed as trade abuses on the part of China, the administration has imposed or threatened to impose tariffs totaling a half-trillion dollars on Chinese goods.
China, in turn, has imposed its own new tariffs on U.S. goods such as milk, soybeans and automobiles.
“The tactics we see now … appear to have gotten China’s attention, but more tariffs cannot be the ultimate answer,” said Sen. Jerry Moran, Kansas Republican.
The U.S. Agriculture Department announced this week a $12 billion lifeline to farmers who are facing adverse consequences as a result of “trade damage from unjustified retaliation.”
Mr. Lighthizer told members of the Senate Appropriations Committee the administration isn’t contemplating a similar lifeline “at this time” for other small businesses being hurt by the retaliatory tariffs
On NAFTA, Mr. Lighthizer said the administration has been renegotiating the free-trade deal at “an unprecedented speed.”
“Hopefully, we are in the finishing stages of achieving an agreement in principle that will benefit American workers, farmers, ranchers, and businesses,” he said.
But the Trump administration has irked Canada, who along with Mexico and U.S. is party to NAFTA, by invoking national security reasons to impose tariffs on Canadian steel and aluminum.
Sen. Jack Reed, Rhode Island Democrat, asked Mr. Lighthizer if Canada is a national security threat to the U.S.
“Nobody is declaring war on Canada or saying they’re an unfriendly neighbor,” Mr. Lighthizer said, calling the country a “great ally.”
“But if you decide that you need to protect an industry, you can’t be a position where the protection is of no value,” he said.
Mr. Lighthizer said he was meeting with Mexican officials Thursday about NAFTA, and that he hoped Canada would come in and compromise if the U.S. and Mexico managed to move the negotiations forward.
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