USTR nominee testifies in confirmation hearing

This week, President Biden’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative (USTR), Katherine Tai, took center stage for her formal confirmation hearing before the Senate Finance Committee. The hearing was led by Committee Chairman Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR), lasted more than three hours, and had a mix of Senators appearing both in-person and virtually.

The Committee’s makeup includes a broad assortment of political positions regarding trade, but a common theme was concern around enforcement of China’s trade commitments to the U.S. and to the World Trade Organization (WTO). Tai agreed that China needs to deliver on its commitments made in the pact with the U.S. last year.

In Tai’s opening statement, she said, “I previously served as America’s chief enforcer against
China’s unfair trade practices. I know firsthand how critically important it is that we have a strategic and coherent plan for holding China accountable to its promises and effectively competing with its model of state-directed economics. I know the opportunities and limitations in our existing toolbox. And I know how important it is to build what the President has termed “a united front of U.S. allies.””

“While pointing to China trade promises, [Iowa GOP Senator Chuck Grassley] noted the $31 billion in farm exports to China, while falling short of what was expected, is still positive news. Still, there are structural changes needed in China’s economy Grassley said. Tai acknowledged the long-term challenges of making structural changes are ‘well-worn roads among former USTR, expecting China to change,’ Tai said.

“‘On the issue of the U.S.-China trade, relationship, we need to be exploring all of our options,’ Tai said.”

Senator Bill Cassidy (R-LA) asked about a UK trade deal that could benefit rice. “We would love to sell a lot of Louisiana rice to the UK and it turns out they love it. The issue, of course, is there is 25 percent countervailing tariffs as it’s caught up in other aspects of our trade war. Just to encourage that it be resolved ASAP.”

“If confirmed,” said Tai, “I would want to take every opportunity to work this issue not just at USTR but with other agencies that have a stake.”

Tai was most recently chief trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee and before that 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 WTO. In that capacity she worked on U.S. WTO cases for rice and other agricultural commodities against China.

Tai’s nomination needs to clear the Senate Finance Committee before heading to the full U.S.
Senate for consideration. USA Rice, along with at least 114 other agricultural organizations, signed a letter to the Committee supporting Tai’s confirmation. Ms. Tai is expected to receive Senate confirmation as she enjoys support from lawmakers from both parties, as well as from business groups and labor unions.

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