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Senate confirms Katherine Tai as top US trade negotiator

Senate confirms Katherine Tai as top US trade negotiator
© Greg Nash

The Senate on Wednesday unanimously approved the nomination of Katherine TaiKatherine TaiTrade deficit rises to record .1 billion in February Craft whiskeys, an American success story, are facing death by trade war The Hill's Morning Report - Biden's infrastructure plan triggers definition debate MORE to be President BidenJoe BidenBiden taps California workplace safety leader to head up OSHA Romney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS US mulling cash payments to help curb migration MORE’s chief trade negotiator.

Senators voted 98-0 to confirm Tai as the next U.S. Trade Representative, making her the first woman of color and the first Asian American to serve as the nation's top ambassador on trade policy. Her nomination was unanimously approved by the Senate Finance Committee on March 3 after endorsements from both Democratic and Republican lawmakers.

Tai had been the top lawyer on the House Ways and Means Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade policy, since 2017. She joined the committee in 2014 and played a key role in negotiations between the Trump administration and the House over the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

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Before her stint in the House, Tai worked in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative since 2007, rising to chief counsel for China enforcement in 2011. 

Tai’s bipartisan credentials and expertise on China will be put to the test as the Biden administration faces several daunting challenges in trade with both allies and adversaries.

The White House has not yet said what it will do with tariffs imposed by former President TrumpDonald TrumpRomney blasts end of filibuster, expansion of SCOTUS McConnell, GOP slam Biden's executive order on SCOTUS US raises concerns about Iran's seriousness in nuclear talks MORE on foreign steel, aluminum and Chinese imports. Tai offered little insight during her confirmation hearing into what will happen to the tariffs, but said the White House would seek to balance easing trade restrictions and protecting U.S. manufacturing jobs.

Four years of U.S. isolationism and steep tariffs have alienated Canada, Mexico, the European Union and Japan, posing a major obstacle for Biden as he attempts to repair frayed relationships with close economic partners and create a united front against China’s abusive trade practices. 

At the same time, trade-critical Democrats and organized labor are pressuring him not to unwind some of Trump’s protectionist policies. 

U.S.-China relations have also deteriorated over Beijing’s imprisonment and sterilization of Uyghurs, attempts to limit Hong Kong’s independence and growing fears that it could invade Taiwan within years. Those foreign policy flashpoints pose significant hurdles for convincing China to curb decades of unfair and abusive trade practices that Trump sought to eliminate through tariffs.