On June 17, 2020, U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Robert Lighthizer testified before both the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee concerning President Donald Trump’s 2020 Trade Policy Agenda. His written statement highlights the “benefits of the President’s trade and economic policies” for U.S. households, the Trump administration’s fundamental changes to U.S. trade policy, and the status of trade agreements and negotiations from the past year. For 2020, USTR Lighthizer stated that “President Trump will continue to pursue new trade agreements that benefit all Americans, aggressively enforce our trade laws, respond to unfair trade practices by other nations, and work toward reform at the World Trade Organization.”
In discussing the 2020 trade policy agenda, Ambassador Lighthizer noted ongoing efforts to negotiate trade agreements with the United Kingdom (UK) and Kenya, as well as efforts to rebalance the trade relationship with the European Union. The United States, he emphasized, would continue to “aggressively enforce” U.S. trade laws, ensure compliance with the terms of existing trade agreements, and continue to pursue reforms at the World Trade Organization (WTO). Interestingly, in discussing avenues to strengthen existing trade policies, USTR Lighthizer noted that one option is to “tighten de minimis thresholds for American imports, including those subject to Section 301 tariffs. At $800, the U.S. de minimis threshold far exceeds that of our major trade partners. For example, the EU threshold is only $150, while China’s stands at a mere $7. This results in massive numbers of shipments to the U.S. receiving duty-free treatment and virtually no screening.” He indicated that such a “disproportionately high volume of these shipments indicates China and others are likely exploiting the high U.S. de minimis threshold to avoid paying duties.”
In exchanges with Committee members in both chambers, Ambassador Lighthizer noted that COVID-19 has slowed progress on the UK and Kenya trade agreement negotiations, adding that there would be no final agreement with the UK before the November elections. He indicated that the pandemic had also stalled efforts to begin “phase two” negotiations with both China and Japan. When asked about renewal of the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) program, the USTR seemed noncommittal in his response, noting that the program “has benefits, but needs changes”; he indicated, however, that the Trump administration is willing to restore GSP benefits it took away from India if some trade disputes are resolved. Regarding continuing Section 301 tariffs on imports of certain products from China, USTR Lighthizer stated that any future product exclusion renewals will only last until the end of 2020, and at that time they “will decide what happens after that.”
Click here view the House testimony.
Click here to view the full Senate testimony.