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For U.S. Trade, Here is the Best Woman for the Job

U.S. News & World Report logo U.S. News & World Report 12/4/2020 Gail Strickler

The anger and divisiveness that have become a hallmark of our nation's politics in recent years can be traced in no small part to policymakers' inattention to the downside of globalization and the resultant backlash from voters who have found themselves excluded from globalization's benefits. We hope and expect that the incoming Joe Biden administration will signal the priority it attaches to "building back better" in the trade arena through its choice of U.S. Trade Representative.

We write from experience as trade negotiators for past administrations of both parties. We know that the United States, the world's largest consumer economy, is uniquely placed to shape the rules of global trade in ways that generate high quality American jobs and level the field for our workers and businesses against competitors who make their margins trampling on worker rights and poisoning the environment.

Moving beyond the sloganeering of the past four years, the Biden administration will need to make smart, strategic use of the leverage we command to better ensure that we lift all ships. That means appointing a USTR with a deep hands-on understanding of the levers and how to use them.

Previous administrations have been criticized for putting foreign-policy priorities ahead of the interests of our working people and the broader economy. In the Donald Trump years, the pendulum swung wildly in the opposite direction: The administration lashed out at allies and adversaries alike, needlessly alienating traditional partners while amping up self-defeating trade wars as political theater. There has to be an appropriate balance between confrontation and partnership, enforcement and cooperation.

Many are looking to President-elect Biden's administration to drive a positive trade agenda that respects stakeholder input on issues such as labor standards and the environment. Trade preferences, if well designed, and trade agreements, if skillfully negotiated, are powerful tools both for improving the competitiveness of our workers at home and raising labor and environmental standards globally.

Proof of this are the obligations and standards incorporated in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement on which there was strong bipartisan agreement. These types of standards can make an important difference in promoting inclusive prosperity across North and Central America through our trade agreements, and to the Caribbean and Africa through various trade programs. We need to pivot supply chains away from those who don't play by the rules to create opportunities and bolster investment for our partners with whom we have trade agreements and trade preference programs.

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China is obviously the most important trade issue facing Biden and his team. The new administration inherits a series of Section 301 actions, the presidential authority to take any appropriate action, including imposing tariffs, to alter any policy or practice by another country's government. Biden also inherits a failed "trade agreement" with Beijing.

Complicating matters, the departing president's incoherent unilateralism has poured acid on the kind of international coalitions necessary to hold China accountable. That needs to be remedied quickly.

So, who should President-elect Biden nominate as his USTR to tackle these challenges? Our unequivocal — and unbidden — recommendation is Katherine Tai, the House Ways and Means Committee's chief trade counsel, who previously served as USTR's chief counsel for China trade enforcement, a post in which her fluent command of Mandarin and deep understanding of China's political and cultural environment were powerful assets.

Tai is a highly accomplished trade lawyer. Disciplined, determined and always prepared, she has worked both inside and outside government. She is held in great esteem on both sides on the aisle for her ability to navigate politics without getting into the fray and for her unmatched command of legal nuance that is so critical to closing trade deals — including the North American Free Trade Agreement renegotiation in which she played a leading role.

As a key leader on the Ways and Means staff, she has developed excellent relationships with trade officials around the globe. She understands the alliances needed to advance our interests. She has a strong track record of protecting worker rights and winning cases at the WTO. She understands the potential and the limitations of the mechanisms and forums that constitute the global trading system. We would also cite her deep understanding of Africa and her conviction that trade must lift and not isolate economically vulnerable regions of the world.

Accordingly, we urge the incoming president and his transition team to choose a dedicated professional and give Katherine Tai the opportunity to show the American people how global trade can work for them.

Copyright 2020 U.S. News & World Report


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