US trade representative Robert Lighthizer is the man lurking in the shadows of Donald Trump’s trade offensive on China.
The veteran international trade lawyer is known to share several traits with the US president, not least of all his skepticism of free trade, his belief that the US has been treated unfairly in trade agreements, and his belligerence.
These qualities are seen clearly in a story about Lighthizer from 1985, when he was the deputy trade representative under Ronald Reagan. Negotiating on steel imports, the rep showed his disdain for an offer from the Japanese by sending it flying back. According to the Wall Street Journal (paywall), after that, Lighthizer became known as “the missile man” in Japan.
Bloomberg (paywall) described the moment:
The trade talks on steel imports were dragging on, and Robert Lighthizer didn’t care for the Japanese offer. So he folded it into a paper airplane and launched it across his desk at Japan’s lead negotiator… The 1985 deal capped weeks of negotiations in which Lighthizer, then the deputy U.S. Trade Representative, shocked his Japanese counterparts with rough-hewn jokes and wore them out with his disdain for their proposals, former colleagues recalled. During one Japanese presentation, he devoted his attention to playfully disassembling his microphone.
Let’s hope he can use his words this time around.