The White House is preparing two executive orders that would put President Donald Trump‘s aggressive trade agenda into motion, according to a senior administration official, with one expected to be announced by the end of the week.
One of the orders calls for a sweeping review of America’s existing trade deals, including the North American Free Trade Agreement and one with Central American countries, the person said. The other would focus on the president’s pledge to encourage the production of goods in the United States.
The timing of the announcements is being debated, however, with one White House official suggesting that the administration might not get to it this week. The administration has also begun preparing a letter to Congress that would start a 90-day countdown to the beginning of NAFTA renegotiations, according to two people familiar with the process.
Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and other administration trade officials visited Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning to speak with members of the House Ways and Means committee ahead of the negotiations. Ross met with members of the informal House trade advisory committee last week, and he has spoken individually with senators of relevant committees.
On Monday, Sens. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Rob Portman, R-Ohio, as well as Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, invited Ross to visit Lorain, a town west of Cleveland where the lawmakers said more than 1,000 steelworkers have lost their jobs since 2015.
“If unfair trade practices by China and other trading partners are left unaddressed, more steelworkers will be laid off and more steel mills will be closed,” they wrote in a letter to Ross.
But the negotiations over NAFTA could be delayed while the White House awaits confirmation of attorney Robert Lighthizer as U.S. Trade Representative, a key position in those talks. The administration is debating whether to send the letter and start the clock while he remains in limbo.
Democrats have argued that Lighthizer needs a congressional waiver in order to serve in that position because he represented foreign governments during his time in the private sector.
Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., has tied that waiver to a request for extending pension benefits for coal miners.
House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Kevin Brady said members are hoping for “a seamless transition” to any new trade agreements.
Brady also said the administration wants to increase market access and modernize the trade deals.
Officials who attended the meeting with Ross were also focused on holding other countries accountable for any deals that were struck.
The White House is particularly looking to improve access to manufacturing, agriculture and services.
“My sense is that they’re not prejudging the form,” Brady said. “They’re focused on the substance.”
—CNBC’s Eamon Javers and Karen James Sloan contributed to this report.