HANOI U.S. President Donald Trump’s new trade representative held his first face-to-face meetings with some key partners on Saturday as the United States charts an “America First” policy that has upended the old global order and sparked fears of protectionism.
Robert Lighthizer met ministers from Canada and Japan on the sidelines of a gathering of Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries in Vietnam’s capital, Hanoi, the biggest trade meeting since Trump took office.
Its members account for over 40 percent of world trade.
Lighthizer and Japan’s economy, trade and industry minister, Hiroshige Seko, agreed on strengthening bilateral trade and removing barriers, a statement from the U.S. trade representative said.
“In particular, both sides agreed to strengthen cooperation to address common concerns with respect to unfair trade practices utilized by third-countries,” it said.
Lighthizer has in the past criticized China for what he described as unfair practices, although Trump has dropped the anti-China rhetoric of his election campaign.
The word “fair” has increasingly entered the U.S. trade lexicon alongside its old mantra of “free” as Trump seeks to do more to enforce or renegotiate trade agreements in the name of protecting American jobs – particularly in manufacturing.
A draft seen by Reuters of the APEC meeting statement to be issued on Sunday emphasised free trade and warned of the dangers of protectionism.
But the different approaches were evident in Hanoi.
Lighthizer was due to meet about a dozen counterparts there, including China’s representative, a U.S. official said. The veteran lawyer and Reagan-era trade negotiator was only confirmed in his new role earlier this month.
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