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After four years of trade war — waged by Twitter and tariffs between the U.S. and almost everyone else — President-elect Joe Biden is starting off at least with some common ground.
Lobbyists for apparel importers and the U.S. textile industry on Thursday applauded Biden’s pick of Katherine Tai for his United States Trade Representative, a rare bit of agreement between two groups that are historically at odds in matters of policy.
The cabinet-level post, which requires Senate confirmation, is key to U.S. trade policy, with the USTR traditionally taking point in trade negotiations.
It’s a job that could take on a higher-than-usual profile as Biden looks to take a different tack on trade than President Trump, whose America First ethos and wheeling and dealing led to increasingly fraught international relations.
But even if Biden looks to take a more measured and cooperative approach than Trump, that doesn’t necessarily signal an easing in relations with China, which is still expected to be seen more as a geopolitical rival than partner.
Tai, who is chief lawyer on trade to the chairman and Democratic members on the House Ways and Means Committee, furthers Biden’s bid to create the most diverse cabinet ever.
She would be the first Asian American and first woman of color to be USTR. Prior to Ways and Means, she worked in the trade representative’s general counsel’s office during the administrations of Presidents George W. Bush and Obama and at various Washington law firms.
That experience makes her something of a known quantity to industry lobbyists, who could be expected to welcome the next cop on the trade beat, but were specific and unrestrained in their praise.
“Katherine Tai has great mastery of the contours — both economic and political — around which U.S. trade policy is created and effectively implemented,” said Steve Lamar, president and chief executive officer the American Apparel & Footwear Association.
“She is an experienced trade lawyer, has demonstrated experience forging trade policies that reflect input from a variety of stakeholders, and is known to strike a careful balance between enforcement and facilitation,” Lamar said. “As our economy recovers from COVID-19, it is urgent — now more than ever — that we enable smart, responsible and effective trade policies that remove barriers, advance our principles, and benefit American businesses, workers and consumers. We believe Katherine is the right pick to hit the ground running on this critical task.”
Kim Glas, president and ceo of the National Council of Textile Organizations, also applauded Biden’s pick.
“This selection is welcome news to the U.S. textile industry, which has worked closely with Katherine on several critical trade issues over the years,” Glas said. “She is an exceptional candidate to serve as the next USTR, having dedicated her career to enforcing our trade laws, and, most recently, serving as a key lead negotiator in the House securing key improvements in the [United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement].”
That’s about as broad a welcome a future trade rep could get from the fashion trade crowd, but there are plenty of issues to wrangle over coming down the line and only time will tell how closely she aligns to the various and competing desires of the industry.
In addition to squaring off with China, where intellectual property and the treatment of the Uyghur minority in the far west province of Xinjiang are top issues, the trade world is also mired in current fights with Europe, Vietnam and more — all while looking to empower the return to normality after COVID-19.
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