President-elect Joe Biden announced on Dec. 10 that he will appoint Katherine Tai, a Taiwanese American, as U.S. trade representative, a position that is subject to Senate confirmation.
According to the Biden-Harris transition team, “Katherine Tai is a dedicated, deeply respected public servant and veteran international trade expert who has spent her career working to level the playing field for American workers and families.”
Tai serves as the chief lawyer on trade to the chairman and Democratic members of the Committee on Ways and Means on matters of international trade as chief trade counsel. In this role, she has secured key victories for workers in U.S. trade policy and has been praised by lawmakers and lawyers for her work.
Prior to the committee, Tai served in the 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).
Before joining USTR, Tai worked in the international trade departments in various Washington, D.C. law firms. From 1996 to 1998, she lived and worked in Guangzhou, China teaching English at Sun Yat-Sen University as a Yale-China Fellow. Tai, who is fluent in Mandarin, was born in Connecticut and raised in the Washington, D.C. area. She is a graduate of Yale University and Harvard Law School.
**Politico** reported that Democratic trade leaders in Congress coalesced around Tai soon after the election, regarding her as a skilled negotiator who has the experience to fulfill that goal.
“They bring deep experience and bold new thinking. Above all, they know how government should and can work for all Americans,” Biden said of Tai and nominees Tom Vilsack (secretary of agriculture), Marcia Fudge (secretary of housing and urban development), Denis McDonough (secretary of veterans affairs), and Susan Rice (head of the White House Domestic Policy Council).
When introducing Tai, Biden told her, “I’ve gotten more calls complimenting me on your appointment than you can imagine.”
“When the president-elect approached me about taking on this role, two memories from my past sprang to mind,” Tai said as she accepted the nomination. “The first was from when I initially joined USTR in 2007. I was filling out paperwork and providing information about my family history.
“My parents were born in mainland China and grew up in Taiwan. In the 1960s, President Kennedy’s immigration reforms welcomed them to America as graduate students in the sciences. My dad would become a researcher at Walter Reed, helping the Army advance treatments for afflictions that debilitated American GIs fighting in the Vietnam War. My mom still works at the National Institutes of Health, developing treatments for opioid addiction.
“They were naturalized in 1979, five years after I was born in Connecticut. And it wasn’t until decades later, filling out that paperwork, that it occurred to me that I became an American before my parents — the very first American in our family.
“The second memory that came to mind was from several years later, when a colleague and I from USTR went to Geneva to present a case, suing China before the World Trade Organization. We sat down at the table — she, whose parents had immigrated from south India, and I, whose parents had come from Taiwan. And my heart swelled with pride as we raised our placard and stated that we were there to present the case on behalf of the United States of America — two daughters of immigrants there to serve, to fight for, and to reflect the nation that had opened doors of hope and opportunity to our families.
“Those memories fill me with gratitude for being an American and for what America is at our best. And they remind me of the extraordinary responsibilities that come with the honor as we navigate our relationships with the world.
“Trade is like any other tool in our domestic or foreign policy. It is not an end in itself; it is a means to create more hope and opportunity for people, and it only succeeds when the humanity and dignity of every American, and of all people, lie at the heart of our approach.
“I’m proud to join with leaders who instill their policy with purpose and who never lose sight of the humanity and dignity, the opportunity and hope that make trade a force for good in our nation and the world.
“I am very proud to be an advocate for American workers, to stand up for their ingenuity and innovation, and for Americans’ interest across the globe. I look forward to harnessing the power of our trade relationships to help communities lift themselves out of the current crisis, and I am grateful for this chance to serve, fight for, and reflect America on behalf of all our people once again.”
Sen. Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii) said, “International trade expert Katherine Tai will be the first Asian American and woman of color to serve as USTR. In tough trade negotiations with countries like China, Katherine will bring her deep experience and a commitment to leveling the playing field for American workers.”
Rep. Grace Meng (D-N.Y.) said, “Pleased to hear that Katherine Tai will be nominated as the US trade representative. An exceptional choice! She is well respected and will do a great job. A wonderful step for more Asian American representation in the Biden Administration.”
Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Sacramento) tweeted, “Katherine Tai is a wonderful choice for U.S. trade rep. She is a veteran international trade expert who has spent her career working to level the playing field for workers and families. Her invaluable expertise and experience will help guide our trade policy forward.”
House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a statement, “America’s trade relationships and enforcement of fair trading rules will be crucial to ensuring that American businesses and workers can emerge from this pandemic with the tools necessary to compete, succeed, and prosper. That’s why I am pleased that President-elect Biden has chosen Katherine Tai to be the next U.S. trade representative.
“Having served with great ability as trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee, Katherine will bring an unparalleled depth of experience to the role. Her work ensuring that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement incorporated fixes to address the concerns of organized labor and working families proved critical in securing its overwhelming approval by Congress, and I know she will continue to fight every day for trade policies that advantage American workers and prevent our competitors from breaking the rules.
“I hope the Senate will confirm Katherine, along with the rest of President-elect Biden’s appointees, without unnecessary delay.”
UAW President Rory Gamble commented, “Katherine Tai is the right person to lead the charge in reforming misguided trade policies that have cost millions of good American jobs. I am looking forward to working with her to put into action a trade agenda that puts the interests of working families first.”