The Biden Administration may be sending signals to the world with its choice for United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai.

Tai is currently chief trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee and served in USTR’s Office of the General Counsel, first as associate general counsel from 2007 to 2011 and then as chief counsel for China Trade Enforcement with responsibility for the development and litigation of U.S. disputes against China at the World Trade Organization (WTO). In that
capacity she worked firsthand on U.S. WTO cases for rice and other agricultural commodities against China and has kept abreast of developments there in her current role in Congress. USTR is a job which usually attracts few friends for the “trader-in-chief,” but Tai is well liked and respected across the United States government spectrum.

It will be her job to both enforce and negotiate all trade deals the United States is a party to. Trump's USTR, Robert Lighthizer, successfully completed deals with the Koreans and Japanese as well as an updating of the NAFTA accords. He was an old trade hand steeped in the fractious world of international negotiations. But Tai is not that at all. She has never managed a
large staff. She has never participated in a meaningful large scale international negotiation, much less led one. She did work for the USTR's office under the Obama administration, although doing nothing that would be confused with a leadership role.

Tai is not a negotiator, but instead a trade lawyer. Biden hasn't been shy about noting that he has no interest in signing any trade deals until the coronavirus crisis is firmly in the rear-view mirror. It is likely that Ms. Tai wasn't brought on to negotiate new deals. She was brought on to sue any country violating the letter or the spirit of U.S. trade law; which is pretty much everyone. In her previous work in the Obama Administration, Tai worked firsthand on U.S. WTO cases for
rice and other agricultural commodities against China and has kept abreast of developments there in her current role in Congress.

Rice industry representatives recently met with Tai and seemed encouraged.
USA Rice CEO Betsy Ward said, “This meeting was a great opportunity to remind Ms. Tai of the challenges rice faces in global trade, including the need for sound, market-opening trade agreements and strong enforcement of WTO rules that limit domestic subsidies and prohibit other forms of trade manipulation that help keep us on a level playing field with production giants like China and India,” Ward said. “Tai’s knowledge of the rice sector and her work on the China cases at their inception should serve us well in the new administration.”

Speaking of China, Tai’s family traces its ethnicity to the island of Formosa (Taiwan), and whether or not Biden meant for his new USTR's background to matter, it will. The Chinese Communist Party perceives the collective actions and omissions out of the new administration as a full-court press against the interests of the People’s Republic of China and will likely be looking for ways to push back by sending signals of their own.


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