Robert Lighthizer, president-elect Donald Trump’s pick to be the nation’s chief trade negotiator, is a veteran trade lawyer with a résumé well-suited for an administration intent on curbing imports it sees as damaging to U.S. businesses.

The shift on trade is part of a bet that a tougher approach to China, Mexico and other trading partners—including by imposing import duties—could boost American firms without kicking off a…

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