President-elect Biden announced Dec. 10 his nomination of Katherine Tai, chief trade counsel for House Ways and Means Committee Democrats since 2017, to serve as the next U.S. trade representative.
Tai’s selection highlights the importance that China will play in the incoming administration’s trade policy. She is fluent in Mandarin and previously served at USTR as chief counsel for China trade enforcement, part of a seven-year stint at the agency before she moved to Capitol Hill.
In an Aug. 5 discussion at the Center for American Progress, Tai said “a good and progressive trade policy has to have both offensive and defensive elements” but opined that the Trump administration’s approach to China trade had been “largely defensive.” Offensive measures, she said, would focus on “what we are going to do to make ourselves and our workers and our industries and our allies faster, nimbler, to be able to jump higher, be able to compete stronger, and ultimately be able to defend this open democratic way of life that we have.”
Similarly, at an Aug. 28 event at the American Society of International Law, Tai expressed hope that a Biden administration would first consider “what is the nature of the Chinese challenge and the threat” and “have that lead us to conversation around what are the measures then that need to be taken to manage the risk and the threat.” Without such an analytical approach, she said, the U.S. risks continuing its “highly emotional, highly political” responses to China, which have been ineffective and possibly even harmful.
If confirmed by the Senate, Tai will have to deal with a number of trade issues other than China as well, including enforcing existing trade agreements and rules, working to reform the World Trade Organization, and deciding whether to continue trade agreement negotiations with the United Kingdom, Japan, and Kenya. Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass., said Tai is well-suited for doing so, noting that she played a key behind-the-scenes role in improving the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and securing support for its approval in Congress.
Nicole Bivens Collinson, president of international trade and government relations for Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, agreed with Neal’s assessment, pointing to Tai’s experience in the executive branch, Congress, and the private sector. In addition, she said, Tai “has long approached trade issues from a non-partisan standpoint, recognizing that trade issues impact all Americans.” Collinson said she therefore expects Tai to work to build support for trade policies among both Republicans and Democrats and among both business and labor interests “to rebuild the United States’ stature on global trade leadership.”
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