Wendy Cutler – Career Negotiator Analyzes the New Order in International Trade

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Mar 27, 2019
by Dani Karnoff
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Wendy Cutler – Career Negotiator Analyzes the New Order in International Trade

Vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former US trade representative speaks at the seventh annual Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program Wendy Cutler and Mark Wu open the seventh Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program in Washington, D.C.

Speaking to 53 law students at the Salzburg Cutler* Fellows Program at the United States Institute of Peace last month, Wendy Cutler, vice president of the Asia Society Policy Institute and former acting deputy United States trade representative, provided insight into current challenges facing international trade negotiations.

As a trade negotiator through the Reagan, Bush Sr., Clinton, Bush Jr. and Obama administrations, the former career diplomat emphasized how the role of the US in the global trade arena has changed dramatically since the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Toward the end of her three-decade-long government service, she had helped lead negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership. But following the US’ shift to an “America First” international trade policy, Cutler told participants that countries around the world have since had to learn to work together – without the US – to successfully implement such wide-ranging multilateral trade deals.

While international legal frameworks put in place since World War II have fostered the flow of ideas, goods and services around the world, those times are now behind us, she lamented. “The international rules-based trade system set up by the World Trade Organization worked for a long time,” Cutler said, “yet the idea that the United States hadn’t been benefitting from these international trade agreements is an issue that has been building up for many years.”

Cutler posited that on the domestic side, trade agreements serve as a scapegoat for economic anxiety in the United States. Though approximately 80% of job loss in the manufacturing sector can be attributed to technological innovation, she said, trade deals are nonetheless the primary target.

Cutler’s remarks, alongside those of program chair Mark Wu of Harvard University, opened the seventh annual Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program, which gathered students representing 22 countries – including Australia, China, Germany, Haiti, India, Portugal, Spain, the United Kingdom and the United States, among others – in Washington, DC to discuss the future of public and private international law.

Since its founding in 2012, the Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program has carried forward Washington “super lawyer” Lloyd N. Cutler’s legacy and continues to empower rising legal professionals from around the world. Lloyd Cutler was a long-time champion and former chairman of Salzburg Global Seminar. He believed passionately in the role law plays in nation building, and in the ability of the law and legal experts to contribute solutions to the world’s most pressing challenges.

Wendy Cutler offered first-hand insight into the role of legal professionals at the Office of the US Trade Representative, as well as key advice for young lawyers as they enter into the next phase of their careers. She stressed the shifting global landscape is unknown territory for trade negotiators and lawyers in the Office of the US Trade Representative under the Trump administration, yet as career professionals, these individuals continue to be well respected, regardless of diverging domestic and international opinions on the current government’s trade policy.

Cutler’s candid reflections paved the way for another successful Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program. In addition to Cutler and Wu, the Cutler Fellows engaged with other prominent public servants and legal professionals over the two-day program, broadening their professional networks and exploring new ways to forge careers in international law – whatever the future may hold.


*Wendy Cutler bears no relation to Lloyd N. Cutler, for whom the Cutler Fellows Program is named.

The Salzburg Cutler Fellows Program is held under the auspices of the Lloyd N. Cutler Center for the Rule of Law. The annual program collaborates with 11 of the leading US law schools. This year’s program was sponsored by NYU Washington and Arnold & Porter. More information on the session is available here.