Lighthizer, 69, was the deputy trade representative during the Reagan administration and now is a partner at the law firm Skadden, Arps, Slate Meagher & Flom where he divides his time between traditional trade litigation, policy advice and legislative initiatives, according to the firm's website.
"Ambassador Lighthizer is going to do an outstanding job representing the United States as we fight for good trade deals that put the American worker first," Trump said in a statement. "He has extensive experience striking agreements that protect some of the most important sectors of our economy, and has repeatedly fought in the private sector to prevent bad deals from hurting Americans. He will do an amazing job helping turn around the failed trade policies which have robbed so many Americans of prosperity."
Created in 1962, the office of U.S. trade representative usually serves as the government's chief negotiator for trade deals and disputes. The position requires Senate confirmation.
But the position might not wield as much power as CNN reported Trump plans to give the Commerce Department under Wilbur Ross a bigger role on trade policy and negotiations, and named economist Peter Navarro to lead the newly created White House Trade Council.
Lighthizer has accused China of unfair trade practices, which has been Trump's position.
"In the second term of Reagan's administration, his trade team put a lot of pressure on Japan in bilateral negotiations," He Weiwen, deputy director of the Beijing-based Center for China and Globalization, told Bloomberg. "If Lighthizer is picked, a hardline approach towards China can be expected."
Lighthizer would replace Michael Froman, who led negotiations on the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
But Trump is opposed to the Pacific pact North American Free Trade Agreement, because he said they kill American jobs.
On Twitter on Monday night, Trump took a shot at China, posting, "China has been taking out massive amounts of money & wealth from the U.S. in totally one-sided trade, but won't help with North Korea. Nice!"
"It is a very high honor to represent our nation and to serve in President-elect Trump's administration as the U.S. Trade Representative," Lighthizer said in the transition team's statement. "I am fully committed to President-elect Trump's mission to level the playing field for American workers and forge better trade policies which will benefit all Americans."
Lighthizer received his bachelor's and law degrees from Georgetown University.