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Tai unanimously confirmed as Biden's USTR ambassador

Former Congressional staffer Katherine Tai brings bipartisan support and promises of transparency to lead President Biden’s trade efforts.

Jacqui Fatka, Policy editor

March 17, 2021

5 Min Read
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The Senate approved the nomination of Katherine Tai to serve as the next U.S. Trade Representative ambassador, with the first vote Tuesday on cloture and the final vote coming Wednesday 98-0. As shown during her nomination hearing before the Senate Finance Committee, she has strong bipartisan support and a positive record of tackling trade policy on Capitol Hill and during a previous career postion USTR.

In remarks on the Senate floor ahead of the procedural vote to advance Tai, Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden, D-Ore., says she’s the “right choice” and detailed her qualifications and diversity of experience in addressing trade obstacles. Her parents grew up in China and she was raised in Thailand and speaks fluent Mandarin.

“Our country saw for the past four years that a strategy of sending mean tweets and acting on chaos does not create jobs. Under President Biden, and with Katherine Tai leading USTR, I’m confident our approach is going to be a lot more effective,” Wyden says.

Previously at USTR, Wyden explains she led crackdowns against “China’s trade cheating and job rip-offs.” As the top trade staffer on the Ways and Means Committee, she was at the forefront of the effort to improve the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement. “She’s already got a long track record of achieving wins for America’s workers, businesses, farmers and ranchers,” he adds.

Related: USTR nominee Tai promises allied approach on trade

Wyden says Tai has committed to working with Congress on the issue of transparency. The Constitution gives the Congress authority over international trade, and Congress has delegated some of its power to the Executive Branch.

“I know that Ms. Tai will continue to raise the bar for transparency and communications with Congress because she’s been on our side of policymaking, and she’s proven that transparency is one of her priorities,” Wyden says. “With a former senator in the White House and a former House staffer at USTR, I believe there’s a recipe for a productive partnership with Congress that will help get trade done right and create more high-skill, high-wage jobs in America.”

Ag sector hails confirmation

Agricultural groups widely supported Tai’s confirmation in letters to leaders of the Senate Finance Committee, which unanimously advanced her nomination on March 3. Groups were quick to praise the confirmation.                       

“Ms. Tai’s ability to build bipartisan support for policies and her experience with enforcing fair trade rules will help America’s farmers and ranchers compete internationally and continue putting food on tables around the world,” says American Farm Bureau Federation Zippy Duvall. “We have a great opportunity to build on existing agreements with China and our North American neighbors, as well as create new opportunities with the European Union and the United Kingdom.”

In her former role as the chief Democrat trade lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee, Tai regularly met with agriculture stakeholders, so she brings a deep understanding of the important role trade plays in our farm economy.

"Prior to her confirmation, I had the opportunity to meet with her, along with fellow agriculture association CEOs, to discuss trade concerns and opportunities facing U.S. agriculture,” says Chris Novak, CropLife America's president and CEO. “It is promising to know that the Biden Administration has made the expansion of global market opportunities a priority in their 2021 Trade Agenda. Ambassador Tai will face a number of challenges—including strengthening the role of the World Trade Organization, ensuring proper enforcement of the USMCA, and minimizing disruptions stemming from technical barriers to trade.”

National Grain and Feed Association President and CEO Mike Seyfert says, “Ambassador Tai is eminently qualified to serve as the U.S. Trade Representative and has demonstrated her deep familiarity with opening foreign markets and reducing barriers for U.S. food and agriculture as well as developing strong bipartisan support for trade agreements. She has the experience and expertise to secure greater market access for U.S. grain, feed and oilseed products and to ensure enforcement of clear and fair rules with our trading partners.”

President and CEO of the Agricultural Retailers Association Daren Coppock says her 98-0 confirmation vote underscores her demonstrated ability to build bipartisan support for trade policies. "This experience and focus will be important to ensure U.S. food and agriculture workers and our industry sectors may fairly compete in the global economy," Coppock says.

Michael Dykes, president and CEO of the International Dairy Foods Association, says, “Tai is an experienced and knowledgeable trade expert who will position U.S. interests above those of competitors, remain vigilant to protect U.S. businesses from a myriad of barriers to trade, and who will embrace diplomacy and relationship-building.”

Dykes adds IDFA is eager to work with Tai and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack to negotiate preferential trade agreements and expand market access. “That starts with reauthorization of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) before it expires in 2021 to ensure a strong negotiating position for the United States,” Dykes says.

The U.S. Dairy Export Council and the National Milk Producers Federation also issued a joint release praising her confirmation. NMPF and USDEC say they have enjoyed a long history of working with Tai throughout the course of numerous negotiations including the U.S.- Mexico-Canada Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

“Her strategic insight, dedication and ardent efforts to work on behalf of improved trade policies for U.S. farmers, workers and businesses across the country speak highly to the leadership she will bring to USTR’s critical mission,” the joint statement notes.

Jim Mulhern, president and CEO of NMPF, states, “With over 15% of U.S. milk production being exported each year, enforcement of current trade agreements and opening new market opportunities overseas will help provide a profitable rural economy.”

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About the Author(s)

Jacqui Fatka

Policy editor, Farm Futures

Jacqui Fatka grew up on a diversified livestock and grain farm in southwest Iowa and graduated from Iowa State University with a bachelor’s degree in journalism and mass communications, with a minor in agriculture education, in 2003. She’s been writing for agricultural audiences ever since. In college, she interned with Wallaces Farmer and cultivated her love of ag policy during an internship with the Iowa Pork Producers Association, working in Sen. Chuck Grassley’s Capitol Hill press office. In 2003, she started full time for Farm Progress companies’ state and regional publications as the e-content editor, and became Farm Futures’ policy editor in 2004. A few years later, she began covering grain and biofuels markets for the weekly newspaper Feedstuffs. As the current policy editor for Farm Progress, she covers the ongoing developments in ag policy, trade, regulations and court rulings. Fatka also serves as the interim executive secretary-treasurer for the North American Agricultural Journalists. She lives on a small acreage in central Ohio with her husband and three children.

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