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Inside Washington

Tai nominated as USTR ambassador

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President-elect Joe Biden nominated House Ways and Means Committee chief counsel Katherine Tai to be the U.S. Trade Representative ambassador.
House Ways and Means Committee chief lawyer on trade and USMCA lead tapped to be next trade negotiator.

President-Elect Biden selected Katherine Tai to be U.S. Trade Representative and if confirmed will take over the position from Ambassador Robert Lighthizer. The trade situation requires deep knowledge of the ongoing trade problems, and supporters say Tai offers someone who can repair relationships with trading partners and utilize her strong trade background and Congressional relations, especially with her recent experience in advancing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

Tai, who would become the first Asian American to hold the role of USTR, speaks fluent mandarin and has past experience as a China enforcement head with the USTR. Her expertise could be crucial to resolving trade disputes with China and ensuring the country upholds its commitments in the Phase One Agreement.

Currently, Tai serves as the chief lawyer on trade to the chairman and Democratic members of the House Committee on Ways and Means on matters of international trade as chief trade counsel.

“I cannot speak highly enough of Katherine Tai. Her time with Ways and Means is filled with many accomplishments, but none greater than the key role she played behind the scenes in our successful work to improve the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement and secure widespread support for its passage,” says House Ways and Means Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass. “Elected officials across the political spectrum, labor leaders and the business community all trust Katherine, and for good reason. Her exceptional experience and expertise are rivaled only by her understated grit and sterling character.”

Prior to the Committee, Tai served in the USTR’s Office of the General Counsel, first as associate general counsel from 2007 to 2011 and then as chief counsel for China Trade Enforcement with responsibility for the development and litigation of U.S. disputes against China at the World Trade Organization. 

Neal adds, “As the United States seeks to repair strained relationships with our partners around the world and address increasingly perilous challenges from China, Katherine will be an honorable and effective representative for this nation, our people and our interests.” 

Senate Finance Committee Ranking Member Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says Biden made an “inspired choice” for U.S. Trade Representative ambassador. “Ms. Tai has the experience she needs to succeed as USTR, and her record of getting wins for American workers demonstrates she knows how to champion the values that matter to U.S. families. She worked closely with me and my staff to craft the strongest ever protections for American workers in a trade agreement and pass them into law with bipartisan support,” he says.

Wyden says Senate Republicans should process her nomination as quickly as possible, to ensure the Biden administration is ready to go on day one. “There are far too many pressing issues on trade facing America to leave the next administration short-handed."

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, notes that on day one of President-Elect Biden’s administration, the U.S. trade situation will be complex at best.

“Complexities emerging around the world—from North America to Asia, from Europe to Africa—require the United States to quickly and effectively negotiate preferential trade agreements with U.S. trading partners that include meaningful access for U.S. dairy and other food and agricultural goods. The future success and viability of the U.S. dairy industry relies on the health of global market opportunities, and therefore IDFA offers its partnership to Ms. Tai and the staff at USTR to position U.S. dairy for success.”

Dykes adds Tai is an “experienced and knowledgeable trade negotiator who will position U.S. interests above those of competitors, remain vigilant to protect U.S. businesses from myriad barriers to trade, and who will embrace diplomacy and relationship-building.”

Moreover, as a staff member in the U.S. House of Representatives, Tai recognizes the importance of working collaboratively with Congress to reauthorize Trade Promotion Authority before it expires in 2021 to ensure a strong negotiating position for the United States, which will result in a stronger U.S. economy, Dykes says.

“Tai has distinguished herself as a skilled negotiator and the Meat Institute stands ready to work with her on trade priorities impacting the U.S. meat and poultry industry,” Meat Institute President and CEO Julie Anna Potts says.

Tai will be instrumental in deciding whether to lift hundreds of billions of dollars worth of tariffs on China and allies in the European Union. She’ll also decide whether to continue trade talks with the U.K. and Kenya, which were started by Lighthizer, says the Meat Institute.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall, adds, “America’s farmers and ranchers rely on a fair marketplace to compete globally and it’s more important than ever for them to have an ally fighting on their behalf. Ms. Tai has deep trade experience and a solid understanding of the need to enforce existing trade agreements while working with our trade partners to expand market access for America’s farmers as they lead the world in growing healthy, affordable food.”

Before joining USTR, Tai worked in the international trade departments in various Washington, D.C. law firms. From 1996 to 1998, she lived and worked in Guangzhou, China teaching English at Sun Yat-Sen University as a Yale-China Fellow.

Tai was born in Connecticut — the first American-born citizen in her family — and raised in the Washington, D.C. area.  She is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School.

TAGS: Policy
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