U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai laid out in a recent speech what the “worker-centered trade policy” championed by President Biden will look like. Tai characterized this policy as “a new path” designed to overcome years of “tax, trade, labor, and other policies that encouraged a race to the bottom” and instead “deliver shared prosperity for all Americans, not just profits for corporations.”

Enforcement was a key point in Tai’s remarks. She highlighted the Biden administration’s early use of the rapid response mechanism to challenge labor practices in Mexico under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, which she said was “the first time in history that the United States proactively initiated labor enforcement in a trade agreement.” More broadly, she said that “enforcing all of our trade rules” against illegal and unfair trade practices will be a priority, though she offered no details on what that may entail.

Tai made clear that China will be a major focus of U.S. enforcement efforts and that the White House will seek to enlist others in this effort. “By working with allied democracies on trade enforcement,” Tai said, “we will more effectively respond to the policies of autocratic, non-market economies that hurt our ability to compete.” For example, Tai will lead a trade task force “to propose unilateral and multilateral enforcement actions against unfair foreign trade practices that have eroded critical supply chains.” She also plans to work with allies to “diversify our international suppliers and reduce geographic concentration risk.”

China has also come under fire for reportedly using forced labor to produce goods for global supply chains, and Tai said the U.S. will “utilize the full range of trade tools” and work with others to eliminate this practice. Doing so will be part of a larger effort to address “the damage that U.S. workers and industries have sustained from competing with trading partners that do not allow workers to exercise their internationally recognized labor rights,” she said, which will also include “greater accountability from those in the business community that profit from this exploitation.”

Tai added that worker rights will be an important consideration if and when the Biden administration decides to negotiate new trade agreements, noting that it will seek to ensure that such agreements (1) empower workers, (2) include commitments by trading partners to promote, protect, and enforce workers’ rights as part of their trade policies, and (3) are aggressively enforced. She also said that efforts to revitalize and modernize the World Trade Organization should include incorporating labor standards into WTO rules.

For more information on how the Biden administration’s trade policy may affect your business, please contact Nicole Bivens Collinson at (202) 730-4956 or via email.

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