By on May 12, 2017

robert_lighthizer 2017

I hope you’re fond of domestic automobiles.

The Trump administration is setting the table to make importing cars more difficult with the U.S. Senate confirming Robert Lighthizer in an 82-14 vote as the U.S. trade representative, prepping the country for an assertive trust from the White House’s America First trade strategy.

Lighthizer will lead communicating U.S. trade policy with Congress and foreign countries, especially as they relate to expected changes to import taxes. (In case you’re wondering, he is absolutely, unequivocally, a 110 percent for them.) Lighthizer has even claimed using tariffs to promote American industry was a “Republican tenet” dating back to the establishment of the party.

Voting results aide, it was actually a close call for the country’s new trade representative. Investigators discovered Lighthizer represented the Brazilian government 30 years ago in a trade dispute with U.S. ethanol producers and he was required to obtain a special waiver to bypass the Lobbying Disclosure Act. The waiver had to pass through Congress and receive the president’s signature before Lighthizer was eligible office.

Under the law, no person who has previously represented a foreign government in a trade negotiations against the U.S. can head the trade representative’s office. Congress had previously waived the ban for Charlene Barshefsky, President Clinton’s choice for the position in 1997.

Lighthizer overcame some unexpected opposition from several Republican senators, including John McCain and Ben Sasse, who were attempting to block his confirmation. According to Bloomberg, the pair voted against his appointment, along with Republican Cory Gardner, after voicing strong concerns over the administration’s protectionist rhetoric and plans to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement. Other no votes included Democrats Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren.

If protectionism is what they’re concerned with, their worries are well-founded. Lighthizer has repeatedly condemned China for unfair trade practices and, in a 2011 article for The Washington Times about Trump, he wrote:

“The icon of modern conservatism, Ronald Reagan, imposed quotas on imported steel, protected Harley-Davidson from Japanese competition, restrained import of semiconductors and automobiles, and took myriad similar steps to keep American industry strong. The same can be said of Richard Nixon. In 1971, Nixon imposed a temporary tariff on all imports in response to what he perceived to be unfair foreign economic policies.”

I don’t know if Mr. Lighthizer has ever ridden a Harley from the Reagan administration, but there was a good reason for the company to fear Japanese imports — and protecting it didn’t help it improve the build quality of its products through the ’80s. Then again, the HD motorcycle brand may not be what it is today without a little help from the government.

Still, the idea of restricting the importation of any motorized product to better serve a domestic company is guaranteed to be controversial topic among enthusiasts. We can look back at Malaise-era automobiles with nostalgia, but nobody wants to see them return.

One of Lighthizer’s first tasks will be to consult Congress on the administration’s NAFTA plans, which Trump has been adamant about reforming — if not abolishing altogether. Afterward, its likely he’ll tackle existing trade deals with South Korea and play hardball with China. The administration has promised to strictly enforce all existing trade rules, especially those in Asia. During his confirmation hearing, Lighthizer stated he would bring “as many actions as are justified” to the World Trade Organization and bilateral dispute panels.

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17 Comments on “Lighthizer Confirmed as U.S. Trade Representative After Waiver Approval...”

  • avatar

    LOL! I told you guys Trump would have an impact on the auto industry.

    Great article Matt!

    • 0 avatar

      Personally I do not think he will have much of an impact. Ford and GM have a lot of problems that no deal will fix

      • 0 avatar

        RobertRyan, he may not have much of an impact but just the fact that this guy was appointed should get everyone’s defenses up. At least everyone knows what Lighthizer represents.

        Trump is alone in the arena, battling the GOP, the ‘crats AND the Fake News Media.

        Aside from EOs that are only good for the duration of his presidency, Trump is not going to be able to accomplish much, IMO.

        I would be pleasantly surprised if Trump will accomplish anything of lasting value and legislation because of all the opposition he faces. So it’s only good while it lasts.

        The people who elected him are on his side, but the US gov’t has a long track record of doing what is good for the gov’t, not the people.

        I got to hand it to Trump. Everything he does, is for a reason. Ditto this appointment.

  • avatar

    It’s a good thing that Honda, Toyota and others are already manufacturing cars in the US. I’m sure they use lots of imported parts, but I suspect GM, Ford and FCA do as well.

  • avatar

    If Trump REALLY wants to do right, he needs to call or tweet GM and demand that Oldsmobiles become built again!

    • 0 avatar

      Make Oldsmobile Great Again.

      It works for anything.

    • 0 avatar

      I would LOVE for GM to bring back Oldsmobile.

      Seriously, there are a lot of Pontiac and Oldsmobile models that could be tapped as limited run “special edition” cars, and sold at GMC dealerships.

      Cutlass, Trans Am (w/ screaming chicken), 88, GTO….

      • 0 avatar

        I was a Huge Oldsmobile fan. Owned a 1972 Custom Cruiser and a 1977 Toronado, both with the 455.

        • 0 avatar

          The 1977 and 1978 Toronados had the new 403 V8 only. Same engine as California-bound Pontiac Trans Ams for 1978 and 1979.
          Say You Still Are an Oldsmobile Fan!
          Should have kept that Clamshell wagon!

          • 0 avatar

            The Toro was a pre-positioned asset in Antwerpen, Belgium, so it could have been a 1976-built, sold as a 1977. I purchased it at the Frankfurt Exchange from the GM rep there and the docs and window sticker read 455.

            No longer an Olds fan. Switched to Toyota in 2008, and am never going back. I sold the Wagon before returning stateside in 1980. It had served us long and served us well, but Uncle Sam was not going to foot the bill to ship it back to the States for me.

            As it was, I was almost 5-ton over my HHG limit, and had to pay for that out of my own pocket. We brought back lots of Euro furniture, like Shranks, Solid Oak Tables, etc. A whole house full, accumulated after 8 years overseas.

            We’re an all-Toyota, all-the-time household now.

    • 0 avatar

      I’m not sure about Oldsmobile. I admit to owning an ’96 Cutlass Supreme with the V6 and fully loaded, and got lots of miles with an Aurora when I had an insurance rental after my wife got t-boned by some idiot in 2001. And I would absolutely buy a 1st gen Toronado in good shape…such a damn good looking car…..

      But, if you said bring back Pontiac, and have GM run a real performance division, I’d be on board. It could be lower volume and be where they do all their race support, development, and homologation models.

      I suspect their shareholders would not approve though.

      A simplified lineup of a muscle car/Firebird revival, a compact sports coupe (bring back the Tempest name?), a sports sedan (Catalina? Parsienne?), a flagship fast as hell grand tourer (Bonneville?) and a 2 seat sports car (Fiero?). Make the GTO designation a Hellcat equivalent.

      It would never happen, and CAFE would be an issue, and none of these would likely have global appeal…….but I can dream, right?

      • 0 avatar

        Great dream.

        “CAFE would be an issue”

        E0 13801: The EPA is directed to no longer enforce the CAFE standard.

        “likely have global appeal”

        F them. MOGA.

        • 0 avatar

          Its good to know that at least one person doesn’t think I’m crazy.

          • 0 avatar

            GM would be well served by resurrecting some of the division names and iconic models – e.g. sell a Pontiac Trans Am. It would not take much to turn a Camaro SS into a sharp Trans Am which would capture more sales. Don’t bring back the whole division but just certain iconic models. As Garrett said they could sell them through GMC dealer. This idea has been posted on here before.

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