Katherine Tai, chief trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee, is reported to be President-elect Joe Biden’s nominee to be America’s trade negotiator.
Tai would lead the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative, an agency she knows well from her committee work as well as from the seven years she served in USTR’s general counsel office. Her 2007-2014 tenure stretched from the George W. Bush administration to the Barack Obama administration. Tai holds a law degree from Harvard and a history degree from Yale University.
The Wall Street Journal and Politico reported the choice, citing unnamed sources.
During her time at USTR, Tai was chief counsel for China trade enforcement, a role that included responsibility for developing U.S. cases and representing the U.S. before the World Trade Organization in disputes against China. She held that position from 2011 until 2014 when she joined the House committee as trade counsel.
Her experience with China may have been a selling point for Biden, who will take over a U.S. trade war with China that is currently on pause, but could heat up as the two countries address geopolitical conflicts.
Tai speaks at forums and before groups with an interest in Capitol Hill assessments of trade machinations. Doug Barry, spokesman for The U.S.-China Business Council, said Tai has spoken to his members.
“She’s very knowledgeable, has a deep understanding of trade policy, and understands China from many important perspectives,” Barry said by email. "She’d bring both toughness and pragmatism to the job."
At an Aug. 5 event held by the Center for American Progress, she noted the challenge of China.
"We have to think about the fact that yes, we are facing very stiff competition from China, but China is not going away," she said. "And so, I think that critically a good and progressive trade policy has to have both offensive and defensive elements."
Tai also was part of tough negotiations by Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Ways and Means Chairman Richard E. Neal, D-Mass., for adding labor enforcement and environmental requirements to the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade. The USMCA replaced the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement.
Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., ranking member on the Senate Finance Committee, said Tai worked with his staff on the USMCA and that Biden has chosen well if the reports of Tai’s impending nomination are correct.
“Ms. Tai has the experience she needs to succeed as [the] USTR, and her record of getting wins for American workers demonstrates she knows how to champion the values that matter to U.S. families,” Wyden said in a statement.
“She worked closely with me and my staff to craft the strongest ever protections for American workers in a trade agreement, and pass them into law with bipartisan support,” Wyden said, referring to labor enforcement provisions, including those by Wyden and Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, that helped win Democratic support for the agreement.
Rep. Earl Blumenauer, chairman of the Ways and Means Trade Subcommittee, gave an enthusiastic thumbs-up for a Tai nomination.
“This is a fantastic pick from President-elect Biden,” Blumenauer, D-Ore., said in a statement. “She’s knowledgeable, patient, creative, and will be the first woman of color to hold this important job. I’m sad to lose her from our committee staff, but she will more than make up for it with what she will bring to the USTR — a vital agency that affects us all.”
Prior to working at USTR, Tai clerked at the U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland and the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, worked at several law firms and taught English for two years in Guangzhou, China, at Zhongshan University as a Yale-China Fellow.