Robert Lighthizer threw his support behind President Donald Trump’s America First trade agenda while being sworn in as U.S. trade representative on Monday, becoming the final cabinet-level appointee to take office.
Lighthizer will immediately start preparing the groundwork for renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement — a process Trump says faced setbacks as lawmakers delayed Lighthizer’s confirmation for months. It comes the same week that cabinet members from NAFTA partners Mexico and Canada will be in Washington for meetings.
“I firmly believe that when my grandchildren talk to their grandchildren, they will say that President Trump permanently reversed the dangerous trajectory of American trade, put America first, made our farmers, ranchers and workers richer and the country safer,” Lighthizer said at the ceremony.
Before NAFTA talks can officially take off, Lighthizer is due to meet members of the Senate Finance Committee on Tuesday, followed by officials with the Senate Advisory Group on Negotiations, House Ways and Means Committee and the House Advisory Group on Negotiations on Wednesday, according to Congressional aides.
The meetings are a necessary step before the Trump administration can give the required notice of 90 days for domestic consultations. That puts the earliest timetable for starting official talks with Canada and Mexico at late-August.
Canada’s Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Defense Minister Harjit Sajjan, along with Mexican Economy Minister Ildefonso Guajardo, are among officials in Washington this week who are scheduled to meet U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross. Ross says Trump has asked him to play a leadership role in revamping NAFTA.
Trump has already spoken with his NAFTA counterparts on several occasions, including last month when he was considering an order to withdraw from the pact entirely. Trump says he received phone calls from Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Mexican President Enrique Pena Nieto, who convinced him to renegotiate the deal instead.
Trump has said if talks don’t go his way he’ll put out of the pact, which he has described as one of the “worst” trade deals in history that has cost millions of U.S. jobs.
Lighthizer is a “tireless defender of American workers” who will pursue a free and fair trade policy that will “make America prosperous again,” Vice President Mike Pence said at the White House ceremony on Monday in Washington.