Industry groups praised President-elect Joe Biden’s nomination of Katherine Tai, a trade lawyer who currently serves as the chief lawyer on trade to the chairman and Democratic Members of the House Ways and Means Committee, as the next U.S. Trade Representative (USTR).
Prior to this post, 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 (WTO), according to the Biden-Harris transition team.
The American Apparel & Footwear Association (AAFA) believes Tai is up to the task of taking on China and other trading partners. “As our economy recovers from Covid, it is urgent–now more than ever–that we enable smart, responsible and effective trade policies that remove barriers, advance our principles and benefit American businesses, workers, and consumers,” said AAFA president and CEO Steve Lamar.
“Katherine Tai has demonstrated experience forging trade policies that reflect input from a variety of stakeholders and is known to strike a careful balance between enforcement and facilitation,” he added. “We believe she is the right pick to hit the ground running on this critical task.”
The Biden-Harris transition team noted on its website that Tai would be the first Asian American and first woman of color to serve as USTR.
Tai, it wrote, “is a dedicated, deeply respected public servant and veteran international trade expert who has spent her career working to level the playing field for American workers and families.”
National Council of Textile Organizations (NCTO) president and CEO Kim Glas, also welcomed the choice Tai as the next USTR.
“This selection is welcome news to the U.S. textile industry, which has worked closely with Katherine on several critical trade issues over the years,” Glas said. “She is an exceptional candidate to serve as the next USTR, having dedicated her career to enforcing our trade laws, and, most recently, serving as a key lead negotiator in the House securing key improvements in the USMCA (United State-Mexico-Canada Agreement). She will be a powerful and thoughtful advocate on behalf of American workers and our environment. The U.S. textile industry looks forward to working with her on our top trade priorities.”
In a thought leadership article for Souring Journal, Gail W. Strickler, president of global trade for Brookfield Associates, and Rosa Whitaker, who runs Whitaker Group consultancy, wrote that Tai “has unprecedented support in the Congress” that reflects her strong leadership to bring competing interests together to tackle some of our largest trade challenges.
“Tai has an extensive background and an unblemished record of working to protect worker rights and winning cases at the WTO,” Strickler and Whitaker wrote. “She understands the potential and the limitations of the mechanisms and forums that have been a part of our trading system…Her résumé reads like the job description one would create if you were imagining the ideal candidate.”
Dr. Sheng Lu, associate professor at the University of Delaware’s Department of Fashion and Apparel Studies, said Tai’s nomination “signals [that] the new Biden administration attaches great importance to the U.S.-China commercial relationship, which is at its lowest point in decades but remains so consequential to the U.S. businesses and the world.”
Biden said in a recent New York Times interview that he won’t immediately remove the tariffs on China and will instead weigh a variety of tactics when considering how best to compete with Beijing.
“I’m not going to make any immediate moves, and the same applies to the tariffs. I’m not going to prejudice my options,” Biden told columnist Thomas Friedman (no relation to this reporter) in an interview earlier this month.
“One top challenge facing the two countries is a lack of trust, and hopefully, Katherine Tai, if confirmed as USTR, will resume the high-level dialogue between the two countries, which is critical to avoid strategic miscalculation and lay the framework to solve structural issues,” Lu said. “However, do not expect the new Biden administration to be ‘soft’ on China on trade issues. On the contrary, Katherine Tai will prove herself to be a tough U.S. trade negotiator for her Chinese counterparts.”
Nicole Bivens Collinson, president of international trade and government relations at Sandler, Travis & Rosenberg, credited Tai’s “wealth of experience in international trade issues and her combined experience having worked at USTR previously and in Congress and the private sector” as forming a “solid basis for understanding the intersection of trade policy from the administrative, legislative and private sector concerns.”
Julia K. Hughes, president of the United States Fashion Industry Association, called Tai a “terrific pick for USTR,” with “some of the most important assets for the position.”
“She has experience at USTR and deep knowledge of trade policy and trade law,” Hughes noted. “She also has experience on Capitol Hill as chief trade counsel for the House Ways & Means Committee. Some of the most successful U.S. Trade Representatives have been those who combine political knowledge and relationships with in-depth trade expertise.”
She said Tai will be a “formidable negotiator with our trading partners, while also working closely with companies and domestic stakeholders.”
Matt Priest, president and CEO of the Footwear Distributors & Retailers of America, said Tai’s background “brings a deep institutional knowledge to USTR and understands the importance of the agency.”
“We look forward to working with her on the many trade issues that impact U.S. footwear companies and consumers, including the exploration of new trade agreement opportunities,” Priest said.
He wrote to Biden last month urging action on two key items for the nation’s footwear sector: removing 301 tariffs and re-entering the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), now known as the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP).
“We need these actions because American families are already paying tens of millions [of dollars] more than they should this year as a result of antiquated trade policies,” Priest wrote.
Biden told the Times the key to dealing with China is building “leverage,” but stressed that “we don’t have it yet.” He said he wants to create that leverage against China by building a bipartisan consensus for strengthening American industry through major investments.
“I want to make sure we’re going to fight like hell by investing in America first,” Biden said. “I’m not going to enter any new trade agreement with anybody until we have made major investments here at home and in our workers.”