US President Donald Trump's nominee for US Trade Representative - a key position in renegotiations of NAFTA - has passed a key hurdle in the US Senate. This despite opposition from prominent GOP Senator John McCain.
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. A final vote is expected later in the day or next week.
Lighthizer passed the procedural vote easily despite the objections of two Republican senators favoring free trade deals, John McCain of Arizona and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.
Delays in Senate confirmation of Lighthizer over 100 days after his nomination set back the Trump administration's trade agenda by months, including the start of NAFTA (North American Free Trade Association) talks with Canada and Mexico.
NAFTA came into effect on January 1, 1994, creating the largest free trade region in the world.
The administration must now wait for Lighthizer to be in place before triggering the formal process of renegotiating the trade pact.
Lighthizer served in the Reagan administration as deputy US Trade Representative.
New ag post created
Meanwhile, US Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said on Thursday he was creating a post to oversee trade and foreign agricultural affairs.
The new position is a sign of Perdue's efforts to promote the US agricultural industry as Trump has sought to undo trade pacts that largely benefit it.
On his second day in office last month, Perdue reportedly helped persuade Trump not to withdraw from NAFTA, arguing that doing so would hurt US farmers. Trump has said he will work to renegotiate the pact instead.
"This nation has a great story to tell and we've got producers here that produce more than we can consume," the former Georgia governor said. He said the new position "fits right in line with my goal to be American agriculture's unapologetic advocate and chief salesman around the world."
The 2014 farm bill had directed USDA to make a plan for the new position, but the Obama administration never created the post.
Perdue said the new undersecretary will work with Lighthizer and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to "ensure that American producers are well equipped to sell their products and feed the world."
jbh/kl (AP, Reuters)