China, USMCA, and workers were among the topics in a recent address on the incoming administration’s trade policy by Katherine Tai, who has been nominated by President-elect Joe Biden to serve as the next U.S. trade representative.
Tai said Biden’s vision is “to implement a worker-centered trade policy,” meaning it must benefit “regular Americans, communities, and workers.” Considering that the U.S. has typically pursued trade liberalization but that this approach has often been viewed as benefiting corporations instead of their workers, Tai’s comments could signal a greater potential for protectionist measures. “Americans don’t just benefit from lower prices and greater selection in shops and markets” that come from more open trade, she said. “Americans also benefit from having good jobs, with good wages.” As a result, Tai said she would “pursue trade policies that place the humanity and dignity of every American — and of all people — at the heart of our approach.”
Tai said an ongoing priority will be addressing “stiffening competition from a growing and ambitious China … whose economy is directed by central planners who are not subject to the pressures of political pluralism, democratic elections, or popular opinion.” However, she gave no indication as to specific issues she intends to focus on or particular measures that may be employed.
The U.S. will also “continue to tend to” the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, Tai said. Asserting that NAFTA “started the erosion of U.S. political support for trade,” she praised its replacement for “incorporating groundbreaking labor and environmental provisions, including enforcement mechanisms that address longstanding wounds and grievances suffered by regular working people.” Tai helped secure bipartisan congressional approval of USMCA, which she said was “made possible in partnership with the business, labor, and civil society communities.” She noted that USTR will seek to “nurture what is working” with the agreement but suggested that it may also pursue enforcement measures “when parties falter and stray from old and new commitments.”
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