US Senate confirms Tai as top trade negotiator

·2-min read
The Senate unanimously voted to allow Katherine Tai to serve as US Trade Representative

The US Senate on Wednesday confirmed Katherine Tai as President Joe Biden's top trade enforcer and negotiator.

The vote was unanimous: 98-0. A rare moment of unity in polarized Washington politics.

Tai, a trade lawyer who served as an advisor to lawmakers for years, will take over as US Trade Representative where she pledged to work to repair trade relations with American allies which frayed under the "America First" hardline policies of former president Donald Trump.

But in her confirmation hearings she also defended the use of tariffs as a valid negotiating tool and vowed to strictly enforce existing trade agreements, including with China.

That was seen as a signal the new US team had no plans for an immediate about-face from the Trump administration's aggressive actions.

Scott Paul, president of the Alliance for American Manufacturing, said the group "strongly supported" the appointment, calling her "uniquely qualified to represent US trade interests."

"Many challenges await Ambassador Tai, including the fraught U.S.-China trade relationship, reforming the World Trade Organization, pushing back on unfair trade practices, shaping a worker-centered trade policy, and implementing the USMCA," he said in a statement.

Tai said one of her goals was to end the long-standing trans-Atlantic dispute over government subsidies for aircraft manufacturers Boeing and Airbus.

Early this month Washington and Brussels declared a four-month truce in the 16-year-old spat, suspending of billions of dollars in punitive import tariffs, in what the White House said was an opportunity "to repair and revitalize the US-EU partnership."

EU Trade Commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis welcomed Tai's confirmation, saying he looked forward to "building on the positive momentum generated by the recent breakthrough in the Airbus-Boeing dispute."

"The EU is committed to a meaningful reboot of EU-US trade relations, reinforcing our bilateral trade relationship," he added.

Tai, whose parents were born in China, said she would work to ensure that Beijing meets its commitments under a January 2020 trade accord.

Trump signed the deal with China after a bruising trade battle that saw tariffs imposed by both sides.

While Tai stressed that Beijing must keep its promises, she said she supports a "holistic review on China" and US-China strategy.

The official also agreed on the need for reform of the WTO, a view shared by her predecessor Robert Lighthizer, who effectively paralyzed the trade body's dispute settlement system.

Tai helped negotiate the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement in 2019 as trade advisor to the House Ways and Means Committee, to include more stringent labor and environmental standards.