Trump packs trade team with veterans of China steel wars
President-elect Donald Trump is stacking his trade transition team with veterans of the US steel industry’s battles with China, signaling a potentially more aggressive approach to US complaints of unfair Chinese subsidies for its exports and barriers to imports.
Led by Wilbur Ross, a billionaire steel investor and Trump’s nominee for commerce secretary, Dan DiMicco, the former CEO of steelmaker Nucor Corp, and three veteran steel trade lawyers, the team is expected to help shift the US trade focus more heavily toward enforcement actions aimed at bringing down a chronic US trade deficit, Washington trade experts said.
Based on their past efforts, this could include more challenges to China’s trade practices through the World Trade Organization and more US government-initiated anti-dumping and anti-subsidy cases against a wider range of Chinese products. The latter would be argued before the US International Trade Commission - a forum where the steel industry has had considerable success.
Ross, DiMicco and other leaders of Big Steel have been on the front-line in US trade battles against the world’s export superpower. Hit by a flood of cheap imports from China and other countries, the US steel industry has brought 16 new cases in the past three years, seeking punitive duties from the Commerce Department to combat below-cost dumping and unfair subsidies that slashed prices of various steel products to historic lows last year, causing layoffs at US steel mills.
Some of these cases have resulted in massive penalties against Chinese imports, including duties of more than 500 percent on Chinese coldrolled steel used in autos and appliances. Lawyers Robert Lighthizer and Jeffrey Gerrish have represented United States Steel and Stephen Vaughn has represented AK Steel in these cases. The three are also part of Trump’s trade team.
Lighthizer, Gerrish, Vaughn, Ross and DiMicco either declined to comment for this story or did not respond to Reuters’ requests for interviews. Trade experts familiar with their views and their history of confrontation with China, however, say they will not be afraid to push the limits of what is legal under World Trade Organization rules in defense of US trade interests.
Lighthizer, who along with DiMicco is considered a strong candidate to be the new U.S. Trade Representative, is known for his work during the Reagan administration pressuring Japan into voluntary export restraints. —Reuters