WASHINGTON – President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is expected to select Katherine Tai, chief trade attorney for the House Ways and Means Committee, as the United States trade agent, a key role who will be responsible for enforcing American trade rules in negotiations with China and other countries on new trade terms, according to those familiar with the plans.
Ms. Tai has received strong support from colleagues in Congress, who credit her for helping a recalcitrant gathering of politicians and stakeholders to fight for the adoption of the revised North American Free Trade Agreement. From 2007 to 2014, Ms. Tai worked for the United States Trade Representative’s Office, where she successfully prosecuted several cases of Chinese trade practices at the World Trade Organization.
If this were confirmed, Ms. Tai, an Asian American woman, would become the first black woman to serve as a U.S. trade representative, a cabinet-level official with the rank of ambassador.
Ms. Tai’s selection was previously reported by Politico and the Wall Street Journal.
Although Mr Biden has stated that he has no intention of negotiating any new free trade agreements until he has made “major investments here at home and in our workers”, his sales agent will have a lot to do. These responsibilities likely include ensuring that American trade rules are properly enforced and that they promote, rather than hamper, other parts of Mr Biden’s agenda, including fighting climate change and encouraging domestic investment, for example through the expansion of Buy American Programs.
Congressional Democrats have campaigned for Ms. Tai to be appointed in part because they believe she would play an important role in ensuring that the provisions of the United States-Mexico-Canada accord, which replaced NAFTA this year, are enforced will. This includes initiating new trade proceedings against Mexican factories that violate labor rules and ensuring that Mexico carries out ambitious reforms to its labor system.
As chief counsel for the Ways and Means Committee, Ms. Tai played a key role in drafting the democratic demands for final changes to the USMCA negotiated by the Trump administration. In this role, she balanced the competing demands of trade unions, environmental groups, corporate lobbyists, and the administration, and helped craft a deal that overtook both Houses of Congress by a wide margin.
In a November letter to Mr. Biden, 10 House Democrats wrote that Ms. Tai’s central role in these negotiations “uniquely qualifies her to lead the implementation and enforcement efforts” as the next sales representative.
“Ms. Tai knows every tool available to hold Mexico and Canada accountable,” the legislature wrote.
Although this is sometimes a minor position, the office of commercial agent has grown in importance under President Trump, who has used the office to levy substantial tariffs on overseas and negotiate a number of trade deals, small and large.
Mr Biden’s chief trade negotiator will be responsible for managing much of this legacy, including assisting in deciding whether to continue to impose tariffs on Chinese goods and whether to keep certain companies excluded from those tariffs. Many of these bans will expire on December 31, and it remains unclear whether Mr Trump plans to extend them.
The new commercial agent will also be responsible for adapting the office to democratic priorities, e.g. B. to increase the protection of workers, curb climate change and raise standards for consumer protection. The election of Mr Biden will also be responsible for rebuilding trade ties that have been weighed down by Mr Trump’s aggressive approach, including with Europe, Canada, Japan and Mexico.
Supporters say Ms. Tai is also uniquely positioned to address the economic challenges facing China, which is believed to be America’s greatest source of competition in the trade sector.
During her tenure in the House of Representatives, Ms. Tai dealt not only with trade disputes against China at the World Trade Organization on issues such as subsidies and export restrictions, but also with issues related to China, including strategies to restore American supply chains and legislation to ban imports Forced labor by Uyghurs and other minorities in China.
Ms. Tai has a background in China, where she taught in the late 1990s and was fluent in Mandarin.
In the House of Representatives, she also sought to examine the legacy of racial injustice in US trade policy and how trade profits could be made more inclusive.
Thomas Kaplan and Emily Cochrane contributed to the coverage.