Senators press BIS nominee on the administration’s failure to release details of Commerce’s national security investigation into automobile and related parts imports.
Nazak Nikakhtar, President Donald Trump’s pick to lead the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security as undersecretary, told Senate Banking Committee members that “time is of the essence” for the U.S. to update its export control regulations.
“Economic integration has emboldened some foreign nations to behave in ways that undermine our national security, expecting that threats of economic retaliation will weaken our resolve to act,” Nikakhtar said in testimony during her confirmation hearing before the committee Wednesday.
Nikakhtar currently serves as the BIS assistant secretary for industry and analysis. She was confirmed by the Senate for that role on March 19, 2018.
She explained to the committee that foreign actors have stepped up their attempts to illegally acquire U.S.-made technologies to facilitate construction of weapons of mass destruction and supply terrorist groups and rogue regimes.
“We are witnessing illegal acquisitions of sensitive technologies to weaponize dual-use items and oppress millions of innocent citizens,” Nikakhtar said.
She said the U.S. must maintain its technological edge “through multilateral coordination that is more forward leaning, better use of intelligence data and analytics, robust enforcement of our laws and a tightly coordinated whole-of government approach that includes more proactive engagement with Congress.”
Nikakhtar also vowed to work with the nation’s export industry to shape BIS’ future regulations and policies. “I have made it a priority to seek industry input, as today’s complex challenges cannot be solved without close engagement with U.S. businesses,” she said.
However, Sen. Patrick J. Toomey, R-Pa., said he is unable to fully evaluate her nomination without first reviewing the details of the Commerce Department’s Section 232 national security investigation report into imports of foreign autos and related parts and whether they unfairly threaten the U.S. automotive industry’s competitiveness. Nikakhtar participated in this investigation.
“My state is sitting on edge right now,” added Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala., referring to the same investigation and the potential that resulting tariffs might have on his state’s auto sector.
Nikakhtar said it’s now up to the president when to release the report. She reiterated that the investigation’s findings were not predicated on providing “trade leverage” to U.S. automakers.
Last month, Toomey, along with Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, introduced separate pieces of legislation to rein in presidential Section 232 authorities.
Sen. Chris Van Hollen, D-Md., also raised concerns about the Trump administration potentially backtracking on its recent placement of Chinese telecom Huawei on the BIS Entity List, adding that is what President Trump did with the Commerce Department’s export enforcement actions initially taken against ZTE Corp. two years ago.
Nikakhtar said she wants to hold all bad actors accountable to U.S. export control regulations and reiterated to the senator that her “singular focus is national security.”
In April, Trump formally nominated Nikakhtar to serve as the Commerce Department’s next undersecretary for industry and security.
If confirmed by the Senate, she will replace Mira Radielovic Ricardel, who resigned from the position at the Bureau of Industry and Security in April 2018. Before that, the position was filled by Eric Hirschhorn during the Obama administration.
In early March, she was quietly elevated by the Trump administration to performing the “nonexclusive duties” of the agency’s undersecretary for industry and security post.
Prior to her appointment at BIS, Nikakhtar spent several years as a partner at the international trade law firm of Cassidy Levy Kent and served as an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center.
She also held prior roles with the International Trade Administration’s Enforcement and Compliance Unit in the China/Non-Market Economy Office, for which she oversaw numerous antidumping cases, advised on legal and regulatory matters related to the enforcement of U.S. trade laws and participated in bilateral negotiations on trade issues between the U.S. and China.
“My training and experience as both a lawyer and an economist have given me the expertise to determine how to protect U.S. national security and simultaneously advance the economic interests of U.S. industries,” Nikakhtar told the committee members in her testimony.