By David Lawder
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - New U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer will attend a meeting of Asia-Pacific trade ministers next weekend in Vietnam, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Monday.
Lighthizer, whose nomination was confirmed by the U.S. Senate late on Thursday after months of delays, was sworn in on Monday.
The veteran steel industry trade lawyer, who served as deputy USTR during the Reagan administration's battles to limit imports from Japan and Germany in the 1980s, will complete Trump's trade policy team, alongside U.S. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross and White House trade and industrial policy adviser Peter Navarro.
Lighthizer, 69, will be the principal U.S. negotiator in talks expected to start later this year to revamp the 23-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico.
Spicer said Lighthizer will meet with key trade-related committees in Congress this week. The meetings are required ahead of sending lawmakers a notification letter that will start the process for renegotiating NAFTA, launching a 90-day consultation after which talks over one of the world's biggest trading blocs can officially begin.
At the May 20-21 meeting of trade ministers from the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) countries in Hanoi, Vietnam, Lighthizer will face many counterparts who were signatories to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a 12-country free trade agreement that included Vietnam, Japan, Australia Mexico, and Canada.
One of President Donald Trump's first acts in office was to serve notice of withdrawal from TPP, a trade deal he frequently called a "disaster." Instead, his administration is pursuing an "America First" trade plan that relies heavily on stronger enforcement of U.S. trade laws and existing trade agreements, while seeking to renegotiate some of them to more favorable terms for the United States.
The remaining TPP countries have been exploring whether and how to proceed with the pact after the U.S. withdrawal.
China, the largest U.S. trading partner, also is a member of APEC, allowing Lighthizer an opportunity to meet with his Chinese counterparts as the Trump administration seeks to build on agreements to shrink the U.S. trade deficit with China.
Last week, the Commerce Department's Ross said the United States and China had agreed to take action by mid-July to increase access for U.S. financial firms and expand trade in beef and chicken among other steps as part of Washington's drive to cut the deficit.
(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Tom Brown)