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Lighthizer vows to pursue Trump's 'America First' trade agenda

Lighthizer vows to pursue Trump's 'America First' trade agenda
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U.S. Trade Representative Robert LighthizerRobert (Bob) Emmet LighthizerMcConnell urges GOP senators to call Trump about tariffs Companies brace for trade war MORE vowed on Friday to aggressively pursue the Trump administration’s broad Asia-Pacific “America First” trade agenda.

Lighthizer said that the United States will use its “economic leverage” to work toward a more balanced and fair trading system across the rapidly growing Pacific region.

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The statement follows President Trump’s tough talk on trade in a speech to the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) CEO Summit in Vietnam during the penultimate stop in his five-nation trip across Asia.

“The president spoke loud and clear: the era of trade compromised by massive state intervention, subsidies, closed markets and mercantilism is ending,” Lighthizer said.

"President Trump understands that too many nations talk about free trade abroad, only to shield their economies behind tariff and non-tariff barriers at home," he said.

Trump told the group of business leaders at APEC that he will not allow “the United States to be taken advantage of anymore.”

He called on "any Indo-Pacific nation that wants to be our partner and that will abide by the principles of fair and reciprocal trade" to join the United States in bilateral trade deals. 

"From this day forward, we will compete on a fair and equal basis," Trump said.

"What we will no longer do is enter into large agreements that tie our hands, surrender our sovereignty, and make meaningful enforcement practically impossible."

The Trump administration has said that it would focus on bilateral agreements instead of larger, more comprehensive deals as an avenue to lower trade deficits. 

Richard Haass‏, president of the Council of Foreign Relations, tweeted that there is “no way a world of bilateral pacts can provide comparable benefits” to multi-nation trade agreements.

Shortly after taking office, Trump withdrew the United States from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

The United States, Mexico and Canada are working on the three-nation North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), but the U.S. has no other multilateral trade agreements in the works.

Trade ministers from the 11 remaining TPP countries, including Japan, Canada and Mexico, are still seeking an agreement.

Those leaders, who had hoped to announce at last a tentative deal on Friday during the APEC summit, fell short of that goal but vowed to keep working toward a deal with the U.S.

The United States and South Korea also are reworking that deal, which went into effect in 2012.

Trump's harsher tone on Friday ran counter to his remarks in Beijing, where he told China’s President Xi Jinping that the massive trade deficit between the two nations was the fault of past U.S. presidents.

He tweeted about his remarks and mentioned them again in the APEC speech. 

"I do not blame China, or any other country, of which there are many, for taking advantage of the United States on trade," he said.

“If their representatives are able to get away with it, they are just doing their jobs. I wish previous administrations in my country saw what was happening and did something about it. They did not, but I will.”

Trump acknowledged that the U.S. and China must work on their trading relationship and said that the "current trade imbalance is not acceptable."

"I recently had an excellent trip to China, where I spoke openly and directly with President Xi about China’s unfair trade practices and the enormous trade deficits they have produced with the United States," Trump said.  

"I expressed our strong desire to work with China to achieve a trading relationship that is conducted on a truly fair and equal basis."