WASHINGTON — As the nation’s top trade official, Katherine Tai says she would hold trading partners to their obligations, shape trade policies to benefit U.S. workers and strive for balance in dealing with geopolitical rival China.
“China is simultaneously a rival, a trade partner, and an outsized player whose cooperation we’ll also need to address certain global challenges. We must remember how to walk, chew gum and play chess at the same time,” Tai said during her confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee Thursday.
Part of the chess game, Tai said, will require building on executive orders by President Joe Biden that call for reviews of key supply chains with an eye toward boosting domestic production where practical and sourcing from countries the U.S. considers allies. Tai also said the administration will invest in workers to keep them competitive.
Tai would be the first Asian American and woman of color to head the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Her parents were born in mainland China and grew up in Taiwan. They came to the U.S. as graduate students under immigration rules set by President John F. Kennedy.
Her father worked as a medical researcher at Walter Reed Army Institute of Research and her mother oversees a clinical trials network at the National Institutes of Health that is developing treatments for opioid addiction.
Tai has support from Finance Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., as well as the backing of major agriculture groups, labor organizations, environmentalists and business groups, including the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
She was the chief trade lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee when Biden selected her to become the U.S. trade representative, which comes with the title of ambassador.
Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., and ranking member Kevin Brady, R-Texas, appeared jointly at the hearing to support Tai’s nomination. They said her extensive trade expertise, negotiating skills and knowledge of Congress will make her a formidable U.S. representative in global trade.
Tai fielded questions on digital services taxes, the long-running fight with Canada over subsidized soft-wood lumber and building resilient supply chains. She promised to consult with lawmakers and stressed the need to engage with trading partners.
To Sen. Tim Scott, R-S.C., Tai explained what she meant by a worker-centered trade policy. She said it applied to all workers whether or not they are union members and is meant to signal that their livelihoods won't be traded away to achieve broader goals.