Biden’s trade rep pick Katherine Tai says she will fight Chinese trade barriers, including censorship

Protecting US workers and farmers will be central to the Biden administration's trade policy.
Protecting US workers and farmers will be central to the Biden administration's trade policy.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS, AFP) - US President Joe Biden’s US trade representative nominee, Katherine Tai, said on Monday (March 1) she would work to fight a range of “unfair” Chinese trade and economic practices and would seek to treat Chinese censorship as a trade barrier.  

In written answers to senators’ questions following her confirmation hearing last week,  Ms Tai said she would seek to use the enforcement consultation process in former President Donald Trump’s “Phase 1” trade deal with China to ensure the protection of American intellectual property.  

“I am open to exploring a wide range of options to address our long-standing problems with China’s unfair trade practices, including bilateral talks,” Ms Tai wrote.

“However, I will not hesitate to act if those talks prove ineffective,” she added, without naming specific consequences.  

She said she would work to address market access restrictions that prevent US companies from competing in the Chinese market, including for cloud computing.

She told Republican Senator John Cornyn that Chinese government censorship policies also disadvantage US businesses, and that if confirmed, she would work with him “to develop trade policies that treat censorship as a trade barrier.”

Ms Tai’s written answers to Senate Finance Committee members’questions were seen by Reuters as the US Trade Representative’s Office released a report on the Biden administration’s trade agenda that included consideration of a border adjustment tax on goods from countries with high carbon pollution and a vow to combat China’s use of forced labor in its Xinjiang region.  

Asked how she would handle “Section 301” tariffs on Chinese goods and tariff exclusions that are now expiring, Ms Tai said she would work to “ensure that those tariffs are appropriately responsive to China’s practices and take into account the impact on U.S. businesses, workers and consumers.”

In a nod to the US energy sector, Ms Tai also said she would work with the Department of Energy and the Department of Agriculture to promote market access for American energy exports, including liquefied natural gas and ethanol.

The US Trade Representative's office pledged on Monday that the Biden administration will use "all available tools" to take on abusive trade practices by China.

In addition, Mr Biden's trade team will seek to repair relations with allies, and defend US workers, according to the 2021 President's Trade Agenda submitted to Congress.

Tackling the Covid-19 pandemic by securing vaccine supply chains and production is a top priority.

The report largely formalises statements made in recent weeks by Mr Biden and Ms Tai, who is awaiting Senate confirmation.

On the high-profile trade spat between Washington and Beijing, the report acknowledged the damage done by "China's coercive and unfair trade practices," which "undermine our national interests."

"The Biden administration is committed to using all available tools to take on the range of China's unfair trade practices that continue to harm US workers and businesses," the report said.

It said what it deems China's human rights abuses against Uighur Muslims and others will be a "top priority" for Biden's team.

"Americans and consumers around the world do not want products made with forced labor on store shelves, and workers should not be disadvantaged by competing with a state sponsored regime of systematic repression," the report said.

Restoring frayed relations with allies and trading partners also will be part of Biden's strategy for dealing with Beijing in the effort to "address global market distortions created by industrial overcapacity."

The report said protecting US workers and farmers will be central to the administration's trade policy, fulfilling Mr Biden's campaign promise.