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This Week In Trade

Tai gets her day: Finance panel set to weigh her nomination on Thursday

Posted: February 22, 2021

The Senate Finance Committee will hold a confirmation for U.S. Trade Representative nominee Katherine Tai on Thursday, giving the former House Ways & Means Democratic trade counsel her first opportunity to lay out her plans to Congress.

The Biden administration had hoped to install Tai as USTR by March 1, though the calendar may no longer allow that.

Tai’s nomination has been widely praised on both sides and the hearing is not expected to be contentious, nor are any subsequent votes on her nomination expected to be close. Then-Senate Finance Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-IA) in December said Tai was “pretty aggressive in protecting our interests, particularly against China,” while Sen. Rob Portman (R-OH), who like Grassley is on Finance, has also lauded her.

She also has received praise from her predecessor, Robert Lighthizer. “I think that my successor-to-be is a very good choice and will do a good job,” Lighthizer said in an exit interview with Inside U.S. Trade last month. “She’s good, she knows the stuff, she’s smart, and I think she has the right perspective.”

Democrats and labor groups have similarly been complimentary of President Biden’s pick. AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka characterized Tai as a “worker-champion” and Teamsters General President Jim Hoffa said he was “delighted” with the nomination.

Biden’s trade agenda is not yet clearly defined, however, and Tai is likely face questions about the new administration’s stance on Section 301 tariffs on China, steel and aluminum tariffs, digital services taxes investigations, the implementation and enforcement of the U.S.-Mexico Canada Agreement, World Trade Organization reform and the Appellate Body, among other issues. Administration officials thus far have closely hewn to a commitment to review policies implemented by Trump officials and nominees have avoided making major policy announcements during their confirmation hearings.

The administration also has spoken little about potential new trade deals. The Trump administration made progress toward a pact with the United Kingdom and launched discussions with Kenya. Tai is certain to be asked how those negotiations fit within the Biden administration’s trade priorities.

One issue the administration has been clear about: climate change. “Today the United States formally rejoins the Paris Climate Agreement,” USTR said on Twitter on Friday. “At USTR, we’re committed to making the fight against Climate Change our priority.”

Walley Adeyemo, Biden’s nominee for deputy Treasury secretary, will be vetted by the Finance Committee on Tuesday. Adeyemo played a key role in the Obama White House in shaping trade policies that were sometimes opposed by progressives. He was deputy director of the National Economic Council in 2015 as well as President Obama’s senior international economic adviser, representing the U.S. at G7 and G20 summits. He also worked on global efforts to reduce steel overcapacity and negotiated currency language in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

Fellow Biden nominee Tom Vilsack, tapped to reprise his role as Agriculture secretary, is expected to be confirmed on Tuesday. Earlier this month the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee unanimously approved Vilsack’s nomination. Vilsack has said the administration plans to fill the slot of under secretary for trade and foreign agricultural affairs after the Obama administration declined to do so when it was created during his first stint at USDA.

On the White House front, Biden on Tuesday will hold his first (virtual) bilateral meeting with a foreign leader, sitting down with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. U.S.-Canada relations were rocky during the Trump administration, as the two leaders were not fond of one another. Tensions also rose during the USMCA renegotiations, with the U.S. at one point threatening to cut Canada from the deal.

Biden, according to a White House announcement, will “highlight the strong and deep partnership between the United States and Canada as neighbors, friends and NATO allies.” The two are expected to discuss “economic ties,” as well.

The president last week participated in a virtual G7 summit with Trudeau and urged U.S. allies to ready for long-term competition with China. Biden said he would consult with other world leaders “on collective approaches to address non-market-oriented policies and practices, and we will cooperate with others to address important global issues that impact all countries.”

G20 countries will hold a finance ministers meeting on Friday. Digital services taxes and pandemic recovery efforts have dominated such meetings of late. The Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development is working -- at the direction of ministers -- to negotiate an alternative to digital services taxes by midyear. Those talks have been clouded by countries’ decisions to move forward with their own digital services taxes and the U.S. position that such taxes are discriminatory against American companies. The Trump administration threatened to impose tariffs on countries implementing digital services taxes after finding them discriminatory but ultimately punted the decision on what to do about them to Biden and his team.

WTO looks ahead

In Geneva this week, the WTO prepares for next week’s General Council meeting and the arrival of its new director-general, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who takes the reins on March 1. On Tuesday, the Council for Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights meets to prepare an overview for the General Council on the TRIPS Agreement waiver, which would give countries a pass on a swath of IP commitments while the pandemic is ongoing. The waiver is controversial and support largely falls along developing versus developed lines -- with developed countries, including the U.S., opposed. While members are set to discuss the waiver at next week’s General Council meeting, no decision is expected.

On Thursday, the heads of delegations in Geneva will meet to preview the state of negotiations ahead of the General Council. This gathering is traditionally convened by the director-general, but will likely be led by the deputies with Okonjo-Iweala’s term beginning on the first day of next week’s meeting.


  • The Farm Foundation on Tuesday hosts a virtual forum on the outlook on global markets and trade negotiations with USDA senior economist Sharon Sydow, John Deere senior economist Kanlaya Barr, former USTR agricultural trade negotiator Gregg Doud and Michael Torrey Associates Vice President Cassandra Kuball.
  • The Center for Strategic and International Studies on Tuesday will hold a webinar to discuss Brazil’s OECD accession with Brazilian Minister of Economy Paulo Guedes and Brazilian Ambassador to the U.S. Nestor Forster Jr.
  • European Union High Representative for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy Joseph Borrell on Tuesday will discuss opportunities for U.S. and EU cooperation during a webinar hosted by the Atlantic Council.
  • U.S. Chamber of Commerce Executive Vice President Myron Brilliant and Eurasia Group President Ian Bremmer on Tuesday will have a virtual discussion on “global risk in foreign policy and international business.”
  • CSIS and Bloomberg New Energy Finance are co-hosting an event on Thursday on the role industrial and trade policy have in shaping clean energy supply chains. Participants include CSIS analysts Sarah Ladislaw, Nikos Tsafos, and Ethan Zindler.
  • The Washington International Trade Association on Thursday will host a virtual discussion on “COVID, supply chains and the crisis at the ports” with Karyn Booth, a partner and leader of Thompson Hine LLP's transportation practice; Noel Hacegaba, the deputy executive director and COO of the Port of Long Beach; Nate Herman, the senior vice president for policy at the American Apparel and Footwear Association; and Weston LaBar, the CEO of the Harbor Trucking Association.
  • The American Bar Association on Friday will host a webinar to review export control policy developments in 2020 with Christopher Stagg, international trade and national security lawyer at Stagg PC; Eunkyung Kim Shin, senior associate at BakerMcKenzie; Sylvia Costelloe, associate at Arent Foxx; and Tim O'Toole, leader of Miller & Chevalier's white-collar defense practice. -- Brett Fortnam (bfortnam@iwpnews.com)