Trump's trade nominee gets broad Senate support

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The Senate voted on Thursday to limit debate over the nomination of Trump's pick, the veteran trade lawyer Robert Lighthizer, by a 81-15 vote.

Thursday's vote was important because Congress had required the Trump administration to have a confirmed trade representative before launching talks on re-negotiating NAFTA, which was signed by the US, Mexico and Canada in 1992 and took effect in 1994.

Lighthizer worked for decades as a trade lawyer, representing clients that included U.S. Steel Corp.

One of Lighthizer's first orders of business is expected to be the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which Trump has pledged to overhaul.

Lighthizer overcame a last-minute push by two Republican senators, John McCain and Ben Sasse, to block his confirmation.

Senate Finance Committee Chairman Orrin HatchOrrin HatchSenate confirms Trump's chief trade negotiator GOP senators must keep their promises to repeal ObamaCare Senate GOP defends writing its healthcare bill in private MORE (R-Utah) highlighted Lighthizer's experience in trade policy.

Some of Lighthizer's most vocal support has come from Democratic lawmakers.

Trump almost bailed on NAFTA, the 1994 trade pact with Mexico and Canada. Three Republicans joined 10 Democrats and Independent Sen.

Hatch also said he had made clear to Lighthizer the importance of the trade rep consulting with Congress on trade promotion authority.

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"If you look at the trade deficit as an indicator - not the only indicator but an indicator - China is a good part of our problem", Lighthizer said during the hearing in mid-March.

He is widely seen as a strong supporter of United States steel industry which has often accused China of unfair trade practises. He told senators that he would prioritize US agriculture - which has averaged $140 billion in exports since 2010 - and assured them Trump didn't intend to hurt any of the "winners" from NAFTA.

In his USTR role, Lighthizer will closely coordinate with Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross and Peter Navarro, head of the newly created White House National Trade Council.

"Lighthizer thinks there is too much protections in China".

US employment in the textile supply chain was 565,000 in 2016.

While the USA trade deficit with Mexico has ballooned since NAFTA was enacted in 1994, US farmers have profited from exports to America's southern neighbor, while automakers have cut costs by building cross-border supply chains that benefit from lower Mexican wages.

From Mexico's perspective, "the Lighthizer news is excellent news", said Antonio Ortiz-Mena, a senior advisor at the Albright Stonebridge Group who served as the Mexican Embassy's top economic affairs official in Washington.

Alan Wolff, a deputy US trade representative in the Carter administration, says China and other USA trading partners should brace themselves.