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Lighthizer Replaces General Counsel Amid Intense Trade Talks

President Donald Trump’s chief trade negotiator is losing an important legal adviser before the U.S. and China aim to close a landmark trade deal.

Stephen Vaughn, the general counsel at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative who joined the Trump administration in 2017, will leave the position in the coming weeks, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer said Monday in a statement. He will be replaced by Joseph Barloon, a partner at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher and Flom LLP, a law firm where Lighthizer was a partner before being nominated as USTR.

U.S. and Chinese officials are set to hold two more rounds of trade talks starting next week with the aim to secure a deal when Chinese Vice Premier Liu He is in Washington the week of May 6. The two sides are still haggling over enforcement of the agreement and what tariffs will be lifted or stay in place once the deal is signed.

Vaughn has been closely involved in trade negotiations with Beijing as well as with Canada and Mexico that led to the renegotiated North American Free Trade Agreement. He’s been part of Lighthizer’s inner circle of trusted advisers, which includes a handful of people, all of whom worked with the USTR before they joined the Trump administration.

Vaughn served as acting USTR from Trump’s inauguration day in January 2017 until Lighthizer was confirmed in May 2017. Before coming to USTR, Vaughn was a partner in the International Trade Group at King & Spalding LLP, and worked in the international trade group at Skadden.

“Stephen has played a central role in shaping and implementing the President’s trade policies, especially related to China and the World Trade Organization,” Lighthizer said in the statement.

Barloon was a law clerk in the U.S. court of appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit. He holds degrees from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, and a law degree from Georgetown University.

“Joe comes to USTR with over 20 years of experience, specializing in government enforcement actions as well as civil and criminal investigations and actions,” Lighthizer said.

Reporting by Jenny Leonard.