What’s Ahead for International Trade Lawyers?

A More Activist Trade Regime

One of President Trump’s core campaign issues concerned trade agreements. Both he and his opponent, Secretary Clinton, as well as her primary challenger Bernie Sanders, opposed the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), now “dead on arrival” as of January 20, 2017. Trump also criticized multilateral trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), among others.

Trump’s governing philosophy regarding trade is that the U.S. should turn away from multilateral deals in favor of bilateral agreements. Robert Lighthizer, his nominee for the position of U.S. Trade Representative, who at this writing is on the cusp of being confirmed by the U.S. Senate, said at his confirmation hearing that he intends to escalate vigorous enforcement of our trade laws to stop unfair imports (e.g., dumping, countervailing duty, and Section 337 intellectual property cases). He also intends to renegotiate NAFTA.

Trump’s budget proposal does not mention the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR). However, these three initiatives—bilateral negotiations, more enforcement, and renegotiating NAFTA—are likely to warrant a budget increase for USTR, as well as for the U.S. International Trade Commission (USITC), the adjudicative body before which trade cases are argued and decided. Such cases are also heard by the World Trade Organization (WTO), bodies established under bilateral trade agreements, and courts and administrative agencies pursuant to U.S. trade remedy laws.

The U.S. currently has bilateral trade agreements with only 20 nations. A number of these will be up for renegotiation. This also means that we do not have such agreements with more than 180 countries.

USTR and USITC employ large numbers of attorneys in both legal and JD Advantage jobs. In addition to its general counsel office, USTR attorneys work in 19 policy, operations, and support offices. USITC also has a general counsel office as well as 11 other offices where attorneys work.

USTR just released its 2017 Trade Policy Agenda, which elaborates on its initiatives for this year.

What Else Is Happening in the Trade Universe?

Manufacturing and agricultural CEOs are lobbying a willing Congress to bolster antidumping laws. These two industry sectors are highly sensitive to foreign product dumping. The Committee to Support U.S. Trade Laws briefed congressional staff and the media in February.

The Legal Job Impact

Look for both the USTR and USITC to increase their legal staffs in order to cope with the likely increases in their workloads. In some cases, new hiring will have to wait for several senior USTR officials to be put in place.

Moreover, an increase in international trade litigation also means more business for private international trade attorneys representing both U.S. and foreign parties.