Trump trade chief vows ‘action’ as Ford shifts operation to China
President Trump’s trade representative on Thursday said the administration is prepared to “take action” after Ford recently decided to shift operations and export cars from China into the United States, also vowing to press China on other key issues like U.S. beef exports and cloud computing.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said he wants to take a closer look at Ford’s recently announced decision to move production of its Focus model to China rather than Mexico in the second half of 2019.
“I find that very troubling,” Mr. Lighthizer testified to members of the House Committee on Ways and Means. “If it happened for reasons that are noneconomic reasons, then I think the administration should take action.”
Mr. Trump famously has tried to pressure U.S. car companies, including Ford, into keeping production in the U.S., though Mr. Lighthizer said it’s likely too early to tie the president’s policies to Ford’s actions.
He spent much of the hearing before Congress’ primary tax-writing committee vowing to keep pressure on China in other areas and addressing concerns that Mr. Trump’s pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership signaled a waning U.S. interest in the region.
“It’s imperative we continue to communicate to our trading partners [and] the rest of the world we are not abandoning the Asia-Pacific region even though we’re no longer part of TPP,” said Rep. Kevin Brady, Texas Republican and committee chairman.
Mr. Lighthizer said that U.S. trade values, and not China’s, would ultimately prevail in the region, and that Mr. Trump thinks the U.S. can get better deals on smaller, bilateral pacts compared to the TPP, which involved a dozen Pacific Rim countries.
“We have to prevail, not just for our own good but the good of the world,” he said. “We have to take on China when they do things that are inconsistent with our values, with the way we think the economy should develop and work.”
The U.S. recently announced a deal that opens up exports of beef and other products for sale to China.
But Rep. Kristi L. Noem said Australia already has moved in with a new trade deal that could crowd the U.S. out of the market as China looks to increase its footprint in the region.
“As we work to modernize NAFTA, other countries are working on free trade agreements, and we’re losing market share in foreign economies,” said Ms. Noem, South Dakota Republican.
Mr. Lighthizer said it is “extremely unlikely” the U.S. will end up in formal free trade negotiations with China, but that China’s $350 billion trade surplus with the U.S. means it could be apt to bring in more American-made products.
“In the history of the world, there’s never been anything so imbalanced as that, and that gives us a certain amount of leverage,” he said.
Rep. Suzan K. DelBene, Washington Democrat, asked Mr. Lighthizer about China’s policies on cloud computing regulations. She said the rules make it difficult for U.S. companies to operate there, and that a draft proposal could force U.S. cloud providers to make intellectual property concessions.
“We are raising our complaints with the Chinese, and we’re looking at all of our options,” Mr. Lighthizer said. “We are engaged on it.”