WASHINGTON — President-elect Donald Trump plans to rely on a wider circle of advisers to craft his overall trade agenda and policy, while the role of U.S. Trade Representative will be that of a principal negotiator on trade deals, according to Trump’s chief spokesman.
Sean Spicer, the incoming assistant to the president and White House press secretary, flushed out the roles Wednesday of the numerous trade advisers that Trump has tapped in relation to the USTR, which has traditionally taken the lead role in trade negotiations and trade enforcement actions at the World Trade Organization.
Asked whether Trump planned to give Steven Greenblatt, the newly announced special representative for international negotiations, a leading role in trade negotiations while carving out a new domestic role for USTR, Spicer said USTR will remain the principal trade negotiator, but will be surrounded by a “much greater” team of advisers.
But there is still some question about what role USTR will have in the new Trump administration, particularly in light of Trump’s antitrade rhetoric on the campaign trail.
Some of Trump’s cabinet secretary designees have indicated they are open to negotiating smaller bilateral trade pacts, but Trump has railed against several current agreements. For example, he has vowed to withdraw the U.S. from the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership on his first day in office and renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico and Canada.
“USTR will obviously still be the principal negotiator on trade deals, but people like Peter Navarro [tapped to head a new trade council] and Wilbur Ross [the Commerce Secretary designee] and Mr. Greenblatt will be part of that process,” said Spicer, adding that Greenblatt’s portfolio is much broader than just trade policy.
Spicer said Ross, Navarro and Greenblatt will “play an instrumental role in not just our trade negotiations, but our trade policy overall in crafting the agenda.”
“That’s beyond just the actual point of who is negotiating, who is the lead negotiator,” he said. “There is also an agenda and a policy that extends beyond that and that is where there is going to be a much greater team effort on this.”
Trump has not announced his choice for USTR. Among the top contenders are Jovita Carranza, founder and chief executive officer of the business consulting firm JCR Group and a former Small Business Administration executive, and Dan DiMicco, former ceo of Nucor Steel, who is leading Trump’s “landing team” at the USTR office and has been a critic of free-trade policies.
Spicer, who was asked whether DiMicco was still in the running for the USTR slot, did not comment directly, but noted as an aside that USTR has three deputy U.S. trade representatives.
“I’m only saying that not to make any announcement, but more just to make sure there is an explanation that unlike the other cabinet level agencies, we do have three deputies and a chief agriculture negotiator, as well as chief IP negotiator in USTR,” he said.