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Top Trump trade official Clete Willems to leave the White House in weeks, as China talks continue

Key Points
  • Clete Willems, the deputy director of the National Economic Council, has served as the lead trade negotiator for the U.S. at multilateral summits like the G-7 and G-20, among others.
  • He has also served as a right-hand man to NEC Director Larry Kudlow on trade with China, where Willems has participated in negotiations in Washington and taken part in the delegations of deputy officials in Beijing.
  • Willems' departure is expected to take place as talks with China linger into April, although the people familiar with his plans cite the wear of frequent travel on his young and growing family as the main reason for his exit.
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Top US trade official to depart in coming weeks, sources say

A top White House trade official will be leaving in the coming weeks, amid the Trump administration's high-stakes talks with China, the White House confirmed on Friday.

Clete Willems, deputy director of the National Economic Council, has served as the lead trade negotiator, known as the "sherpa," for the U.S. at multilateral summits like the G-7 and G-20, among others. He has also served as a right-hand man to NEC Director Larry Kudlow on trade with China, where Willems has participated in negotiations in Washington and taken part in the delegations of deputy officials in Beijing.

"It has been a great honor to serve the president in this White House for the last two years. President Trump's leadership on trade has entirely changed the global conversation and will lead to an international system that is more free, fair, and reciprocal," Willems said in a statement.

His departure takes place as talks with China linger into April. Willems has accepted a top position in the private sector so he can spend more time with his family, according to the administration.

"As my top international deputy, Clete has helped the president change the global conversation on trade and make exceptional progress in negotiations with China, the EU, Korea, and reform of the international trading system," Kudlow said in a statement. "We will miss him and wish him all the best."

He will be succeeded by Kelly Ann Shaw, "who has worked on all areas of international trade and economic development as our deputy," Kudlow added.

Shaw joined the White House in November as an assistant to the president and senior director for international trade, investment and development. Previously, she had served as trade counsel at the House Ways and Means Committee and assistant general counsel at the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

Clarification: This story has been updated to clarify Willems' role in U.S.-China trade negotiations.