Lighthizer Faces Senate Panel; Ninth Circuit Hears Trucking Case

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By Rossella Brevetti and Len Bracken

It’s finally happening. At long last, the Senate Finance Committee this week will hold a confirmation hearing on President Donald Trump’s pick to be the next U.S. trade representative, attorney Robert Lighthizer.

The committee will hold the hearing March 14, but the nomination process isn’t likely to be a slam dunk. The panel’s Democratic members will insist on need for a waiver of a lobbying law the hearing, a congressional aide told Bloomberg BNA.

Lighthizer, an international trade attorney and former chief of staff for the committee, is slated to be the sole witness at the hearing. The nomination has been the subject of behind-the-scenes negotiations over a waiver of Lobbying Disclosure Act requirements that prohibit those who have been registered foreign agents from holding the USTR post. At issue is Lighthizer’s work on behalf of Brazil and China.

Ranking member Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) agreed to the hearing but won’t support the nomination without the waiver, his spokesman said.

Merkel, Post-TPP Summit

Also on tap this week is a visit to Washington by German Chancellor Angela Merkel, who will meet with President Donald Trump March 14 at the White House. Merkel has been a strong proponent of the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Officials said March 10 said the administration is still formulating a “final position” on what to do about TTIP talks with the European Union.

“I’m not aware of any specific deliverables. That’s not the purpose of the meeting, it’s to get together and discuss the range of issues that we have in our bilateral relationship,” a senior administration official said. “And it’s conceivable that trade may well come up. We don’t have any preconceived views that we’re gonna be expressing on that. We want to have an open discussion on trade issues.”

TTIP talks have lapsed since former President Barack Obama left office. Trade officials in the Obama administration spent more than three years negotiating the TTIP with the EU.

In addition, representatives from the 12 Trans-Pacific Partnership countries, plus China, Colombia and South Korea, are meeting March 14-15 in Chile to plot a new course for regional trade. It will be the first major discussion since Trump yanked the U.S. out of the TPP after taking office in January.

While the meeting has been described as a brainstorming session, the TPP will still probably be the basis for any new talks, since it’s the largest and most advanced of the current pacts being negotiated, analysts and officials said. What that could yield is a more toned-down version of the agreement that is less aligned with U.S. interests.

In addition, participants will want to see how the U.S. and China act during the meeting, and they want to hear more about China’s vision for free trade and regional agreements, analysts and former officials said.

Cross-Border Trucking Case

A three-judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit will hear oral argument in a challenge to a North American Free Trade Agreement cross-border trucking on March 15 in Int’l Brotherhood of Teamsters v. U.S. Dept. of Transportation.

The cross-border trucking dispute has been a sore spot in relations with Mexico. The Owner-Operator Independent Drivers Association (OOIDA) as well as the International Brotherhood of Teamsters and The Advocates for Highway Safety want to shut down NAFTA cross-border trucking with Mexico, which could become an issue in renegotiation of the agreement.

Galen Munroe, senior communications coordinator for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, told Bloomberg BNA in an email that the organization couldn’t speculate on the direction the administration may take in any NAFTA renegotiation, but the group had spoken with the president and the administration about its concerns with cross-border trucking under NAFTA. A spokeswoman for OOIDA told Bloomberg BNA the organization backs Rep. Peter DeFazio’s (D-Ore.) proposal to end NAFTA cross-border trucking with Mexico.

Impact of NAFTA Talks on Energy

NAFTA didn’t contain extensive energy provisions because Mexico’s nationalized energy company Petroleos Mexicanos (PEMEX) had a monopoly at the time NAFTA was negotiated. But that situation has changed in the current environment as Mexico has moved toward a more open market in both oil and electricity.

A potential NAFTA renegotiation is now bringing new attention to U.S.-Mexico energy trade. In NAFTA renegotiations, the U.S. might seek greater access to Mexico’s oil sector or to enhance bilateral cooperation on energy production and security, according to the Congressional Research Service. Lourdes Melgar, Mexico’s former deputy secretary of energy for hydrocarbons, will discuss how a potential renegotiation of NAFTA might affect hemispheric energy security at an Atlantic Council March 16 event.

To contact the reporters on this story: Rossella Brevetti in Washington at rbrevetti@bna.com and Len Bracken in Washington at lbracken@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Jerome Ashton at jashton@bna.com

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