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Washington Examiner: Democrats scold trade office over lack of transparency

Two House Democrats criticized U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer for not doing more to make his office's actions more transparent, saying lawmakers continue to be left in the dark about the Trump administration's trade negotiations.

They urged Lighthizer to appoint a "chief transparency officer" to report to Congress.

"We continue to encounter frustrations with lapses in transparency and new deficiencies in consultative engagement," said Reps. Bill Pascrell Jr. of New Jersey, the top Democrat on the House Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, and Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., in a joint letter sent Wednesday.

They cited the administration's recently concluded trade agreement with South Korea as an example, stating that the Trump administration went into it "without articulating specific objectives or process for the exercise" and with rules for consulting Congress that were weaker than those for keeping lawmakers in the loop during the ongoing North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiations.

The issue could be resolved if the department appointed a chief transparency officer, they said, suggesting that Deputy U.S. Trade Representative C.J. Mahoney be given that position. "We [would] welcome the opportunity to meet with Ambassador Mahoney so that we may further discuss our expectations for the chief transparency officer role and what a fully transparent process during trade negotiations and re-negotiations should entail," the lawmakers said.

The letter comes the same day that the White House announced it had reached an "agreement in principle" with South Korea to update the nations' 2012 trade deal. The agreement would double to 50,000 the number of U.S. cars exempted from South Korea's safety and environmental regulations and allow the U.S. to keep a 25 percent tariff on pickup trucks until 2041. The tariff had previously been set to expire in 2021.

In return, South Korea’s exports of steel to the U.S. would be exempted from the recently imposed 25 percent tariffs. Instead, they would be capped at 70 percent of the average export volumes to the U.S. from the last three years, about 2.6 million tons.

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