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Biden's USTR nominee Tai to explain post-Trump trade vision

David Lawder and Andrea Shalal
·2-min read
FILE PHOTO: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden announces members of his administration in Wilmington, Delaware

By David Lawder and Andrea Shalal

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Katherine Tai, President Joe Biden's nominee for U.S. trade representative, on Thursday will explain to senators her approach to competition with China, rebuilding battered American supply chains and patching up strained ties with U.S. allies.

At her confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, Tai will lay out her plans for enforcing existing trade deals and forging new ones that treat Americans as "workers and wage earners, not just consumers."

Tai, who served seven years as the Democratic trade counsel for the U.S. House Ways and Means Committee, said in prepared remarks that she would maintain a "healthy partnership" with Congress.

She also previously served as USTR's head of China trade enforcement and said that the United States needs a "strategic and coherent plan" for holding China to its trade promises and competing with Beijing's state-directed economic model.

"China is simultaneously a rival, a trade partner and an outsized player whose cooperation we'll also need to address certain global challenges," Tai said. "We must remember how to walk, chew gum and play chess at the same time."

She said this requires stronger, more resilient U.S. supply chains and investments in people and infrastructure to boost American competitiveness.

"We must also impart the values and rules that guide global commerce -- and we must enforce those terms vigorously," Tai said.

She said she would make it a priority to implement and enforce the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement, which she helped renegotiate in 2019 as trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee to include tougher labor and environmental standards.

She said the deal marked an "important step in reforming our approach to trade" and its success was vital.

Tai's testimony has been anxiously awaited for months by industry, U.S. trading partners from Beijing to Brussels, labor groups and lawmakers -- all lining up to lobby the Yale- and Harvard-educated daughter of immigrants from Taiwan.

After former President Donald Trump's "America First" trade stance upended decades of trade liberalization efforts and heaped tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars of U.S. imports, many of these groups are pleading for a return to a more traditional view of trade as an engine of growth.

The U.S. Chamber of Commerce on Wednesday called on Tai to back away from the "blunt instrument" of tariffs.

As the trade "czar" for the world's largest economy, biggest importer of goods and second-largest exporter after China, Tai will wield immense clout.

Once confirmed, she faces a long list of disputes left over from the Trump administration, from tariffs on steel and aluminum, aircraft and wine to threatened duties over digital services taxes and China's lagging U.S. goods purchases in a Phase 1 trade deal.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)