From Inside US Trade: Trump's economic transition landing teams include China, Cuba hardliners

Inside US Trade

Arlington, Virginia

22 November 2016

Trump's economic transition landing teams include China, Cuba hardliners

President-elect Trump's transition team on Nov. 19 announced “landing teams” for the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative and Commerce and Treasury departments with some personnel that have historically taken a hard line against China and Cuba when it comes to international trade.

Heading the USTR landing team is Dan DiMicco -- former CEO of Nucor, critic of NAFTA, and proponent of tariffs on Chinese goods -- and Robert Lighthizer, currently a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP and former Deputy USTR in the Reagan administration and Senate Finance Committee chief of staff.

The Commerce landing team is composed of Ray Washburne, David Bohigian and Joan Maginnis. Washburne was a key Trump campaign fundraiser, while Bohigian advises financial services firms and other companies in his role as managing director at Pluribus Ventures. Maginnis works at the Commerce Department as assistant general counsel for finance and litigation.

On Tuesday, the Trump transition team also announced two additional members to the Commerce landing team: William Gaynor, the president and CEO of Rock Creek Advisors LLC, a consulting firm that deals with a range of international trade and investment issues, in addition to energy policy; and Tom Leppert, former CEO of the test preparation and education company Kaplan.

The Treasury Department hand-off will be overseen on the Trump side by William Walton, Curtis Debay, Judy Shelton, and Mauricio Claver-Carone. Walton is the chairman of Rappahannock Ventures LLC and Debay is a research fellow at the Heritage Foundation with a focus on tax and economic policy. Shelton is listed as a “self-employed economist” on the Trump transition webpage, and advised the Trump campaign on economic issues.

Claver-Carone is executive-director of the Cuba Democracy Advocates and also serves on the board of directors of the U.S.-Cuba Democracy PAC. Those organizations support the embargo on Cuba. Last week, he penned an op-ed in The Miami Herald slamming Obama's executive actions to relax barriers to trade and investment in Cuba for having “made a bad situation worse.”

John Kavulich, president of the U.S.-Cuba Trade and Economic Council, told Inside U.S. Trade that he is concerned that landing team members may be allowed access to files handled by the Treasury Department's Office of Foreign Assets Control, which oversees the regulatory and licensing processes required for U.S. companies to do business in Cuba. OFAC files such as “who has applied for a license, who has been denied a license, the text of licenses, policy guidance memorandums from other departments and agencies, and correspondence between applicants and OFAC,” should be off limits to the transition team, he said.

“Unless an individual is an employee of the United States Department of the Treasury, he/she should not be provided access to materials which may impact confidentiality- and competitive secrets; and, potentially be disclosed for political purposes,” Kavulich said.

“There is potential for misuse of information obtained by any Landing Team member when they are a policy advocate/lobbyist and may intend to return to that role,” he said.

The Trump team also added a name to the Treasury landing team on Tuesday -- Eileen O'Connor, who runs her own private law practice and has expertise in federal tax disputes. O'Connor was an Assistant Attorney General in the Justice Department from 2001-2007.

Also on Tuesday, Trump's transition team revealed that Bradley Bondi, a litigation partner at Cahill Gordon & Reindel LLP and leader of the firm's securities enforcement and regulatory practices division, will lead the landing team for the Export-Import Bank.

Whomever Trump ultimately picks to lead those agencies -- based on Trump's campaign rhetoric -- will have an ambitious agenda. Trump's USTR will be tasked with renegotiating NAFTA, potentially with a threat of U.S. withdrawal from the trade agreement.

Trump also said he would instruct the U.S Trade Representative to "bring trade cases against China, both in this country" and at the World Trade Organization.

Another Trump campaign promise: Direct the Commerce Department to review every U.S. trade agreement for violations and instructing federal agencies to "use every tool under American and international law to end these abuses.”

Trump's Commerce pick would also oversee efforts to hit China with high tariffs, as he pledged he would do while campaigning. -- Jack Caporal