U.S. Senate confirmation of Katherine Tai as new U.S. Trade Representative

Katherine Tai confirmed by Senate as United States Trade Representative

As reviewed in prior posts, Katherine Tai is President Biden’s nominee to be his U.S. Trade Representative and faces a full agenda when confirmed. See December 12, 2020, The Incoming Biden Administration and International Trade – Katherine Tai, nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2020/12/12/the-incoming-biden-administration-and-international-trade-katherine-tai-nominee-for-u-s-trade-representative/; February 25, 2021, U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai confirmation hearing before the U.S. Senate Finance Committee, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/02/25/u-s-trade-representative-nominee-katherine-tai-confirmation-hearing-before-the-u-s-senate-finance-committee/; March 2, 2021:  Katherine Tai, USTR designate, on addressing WTO reform including dispute settlement if confirmed; the USTR 2021 Trade Policy Agenda; https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/03/02/katherine-tai-ustr-designate-on-addressing-wto-reform-including-dispute-settlement-if-confirmed-the-ustr-2021-trade-policy-agenda/.

The Senate Finance Committee voted her out of Committee by voice vote on March 3, 2021. She cleared a procedural vote in the full Senate unanimously on March 16th after being introduced by Senate Finance Committee Chairman Wyden. His comments are copied below. See Wyden Statement on Senate Floor on Nomination of Katherine Tai to be USTR, March 161, 2021, https://www.finance.senate.gov/chairmans-news/wyden-statement-on-senate-floor-on-nomination-of-katherine-tai-to-be-ustr.

“Madam President, the Senate will shortly take a procedural vote on the nomination of Katherine Tai to serve as the next U.S. Trade Representative. If you watched any of Ms. Tai’s nomination hearing before the Finance Committee, you know she’s got a lot of fans on both sides of the Senate. I expect my colleagues will vote overwhelmingly, on a bipartisan basis, to confirm Ms. Tai, and I only regret that the other side didn’t allow this vote to happen sooner. So I want to take just a few minutes to discuss some of the reasons why she’s the right choice for this important job.

“First, she knows that the name of the game when it comes to this country’s trade policy is protecting and creating high-skill, high-wage jobs in America. Our country saw for the past four years that a strategy of sending mean tweets and acting on chaos does not create jobs. Under President Biden, and with Katherine Tai leading USTR, I’m confident our approach is going to be a lot more effective.

“Ms. Tai’s got exactly the right experience for this job. She led crackdowns against China’s trade cheating and job rip-offs. As the top trade staffer on the Ways and Means Committee, she was at the forefront of the effort to improve the New NAFTA, when the Trump administration handed the Congress a deal that wasn’t strong enough for America’s workers. She’s already got a long track record of achieving wins for America’s workers, businesses, farmers and ranchers.

“Second, Ms. Tai has committed to the Finance Committee that she’ll work with us on the issue of transparency. Bringing more sunlight to this country’s trade agreements has long been one of my top priorities for trade.

“That’s why I’m glad that President Biden has chosen someone with Congressional experience for the role of USTR. The Constitution gives the Congress authority over international trade, and Congress has delegated some of its power to the Executive Branch. That means all sides need to work together as partners, with open channels of communication, accountability and transparency. It also means transparency with the public.

“I know that Ms. Tai will continue to raise the bar for transparency and communications with Congress because she’s been on our side of policymaking, and she’s proven that transparency is one of her priorities.

“With a former senator in the White House and a former House staffer at USTR, I believe there’s a recipe for a productive partnership with Congress that will help get trade done right and create more high-skill, high-wage jobs in America.

“There’s one other Finance Committee priority I want to mention. On Thursday, the committee will hold a hearing on the subject of stamping out forced labor around the world.

“It is evil. It is morally repugnant. And it’s a direct attack on workers in this country, because when American workers have to compete against slave labor, everybody loses. It’s a race to absolute rock bottom for labor rights.

“Ms. Tai is committed to President Biden’s Build Back Better agenda. A key part of that agenda is ensuring that our workers are competing on a level playing field with the rest of the world. It’s not a level playing field when other countries are producing goods with slave labor. 

“Our government has laws on the books that can crack down on countries using slave labor and keep those products out of our market, but it will require an unwavering commitment to tough trade enforcement. This is going to be an area of special focus for the Finance Committee. Senator Brown and I have worked on this issue for a long time. I know Ms. Tai is committed to working with us on it. It’s an opportunity to stand up for what’s right around the world and protect American jobs and wages at the same time.

“I’ll wrap up on this. Katherine Tai is going to make a great U.S. Trade representative. She’s got the right diversity of experience. She’s focused on protecting American workers and creating new high-skill, high-wage jobs in this country. She’s ready to work with us on transparency.

“I believe she’s going to have strong bipartisan support from the Senate. I’m with her 100 percent and I urge all my colleagues to support her nomination as well.”

Today, the U.S. Senate voted to confirm Katherine Tai as U.S. Trade Representative. The vote was unanimous (98-0). The new USTR has a full plate in terms of pressing matters, including the resolution of the Airbus-Boeing dispute during the four month pause on application of retaliatory tariffs by both the EU, U.K. and U.S., WTO reform and ongoing negotiations, U.S.-China trade relations and retaliatory tariffs in light of Chinese practices, negotiations started during the Trump Administration (U.S. China Phase I completed, U.S.-Japan Phase 1 completed, U.S.-U.K., U.S.-Kenya), review of the 301 exclusion process, 301 investigations on digital services taxes, and much more. There are many issues of importance to members of Congress that will be on USTR Tai’s agenda. Certainly improved communications with Congress, greater transparency and heightened activity on stopping imports made from forced labor — issues raised by Senate Finance Chairman Wyden and other Senate Finance members — will be among them.

In two prior posts, I looked at the forced and child labor issues. See January 25, 2021, Child labor and forced labor in cotton production — is there a current WTO mandate to identify and quantify the distortive effects?, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/25/child-labor-and-forced-labor-in-cotton-production-is-there-a-current-wto-mandate-to-identify-and-quantify-the-distortive-effects/; January 24, 2021, Forced labor and child labor – a continued major distortion in international trade for some products, https://currentthoughtsontrade.com/2021/01/24/forced-labor-and-child-labor-a-continued-major-distortion-in-international-trade-for-some-products/. While the Trump Administration had taken some actions on forced labor, it is clear that the Biden Administration and at least many members of Congress will be looking for greater efforts to stop such practices and any imports that result from such practices in trading partners.

With the new USTR confirmed (presumably to be sworn in today or tomorrow), it will be of interest who and when the other high level USTR officials needed to round out the team will be nominated and confirmed. Best wishes to the new U.S. Trade Representative in the many tasks in front of the country in the trade sphere.