Lighthizer hails USMCA, China deals as "most momentous day in trade history"

Lighthizer hails USMCA, China deals as "most momentous day in trade history ever"

Washington — U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer hailed recent breakthroughs on two different trade fronts, calling Friday "the most momentous day in trade history ever."

"It was extremely momentous and indicative of where we're going, what this president has accomplished," Lighthizer told "Face the Nation."

Lighthizer was referring to the White House submitting a deal with House Democrats on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and the announcement of the first phase of a trade agreement with China. Both developments came during a particularly tumultuous time for the White House, which is in the middle of the contentious impeachment battle. 

"We submitted the USMCA, the Mexico-Canada Agreement with bipartisan support and support of business, labor, agriculture. We actually introduced that into the House and the Senate on this, which is about $1.4 trillion worth of the economy, I mean, of trade," Lighthizer said, referring to Friday's developments. "And then in addition to this, which is about 600 billion, so that's literally about half of total trade were announced on the same day."

House Democrats announced on Tuesday they had reached a deal with the administration on the trade agreement with the two nations, bringing President Trump closer to fulfilling a major legislative accomplishment. The trade agreement, signed by the leaders of those countries last year but not yet approved by Congress, is a revamp of North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and a fulfillment of a key campaign promise by the president to gut the Clinton-era trade pact he repeatedly deemed a "disaster."

Lighthizer heralded the agreement as one that "will be the model for American trade deals going forward." The interview took place on Saturday before Mexico objected to certain portions of the legislation presented to Congress.

Mr. Trump's "phase one" trade agreement with China was first promised in October and aims to de-escalate a nearly two-year costly trade war by avoiding billions in new tariffs. The president announced the agreement via Twitter on Friday. 

The U.S. will maintain 25% tariffs on roughly $250 billion of Chinese imports, along with 7.5% tariffs on roughly $120 billion in Chinese imports. Lighthizer did not back away from the prospects of future tariffs should China renege on their end of the deal. 

"Ultimately, whether this whole agreement works is going to be determined by who's making the decisions in China, not in the United States," Lighthizer said. "If the hardliners are making the decisions, we're going to get one outcome. If the reformers are making the decisions, which is what we hope, then we're going to get another outcome."

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    Emily Tillett is the digital producer at "Face the Nation"