USTR's Tai says unions to have 'substantive input' into Biden's trade policies

Trade policy will no longer neglect the needs of workers and domestic investments. PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (REUTERS) - Labour unions will continue to have "substantive input" into the Biden administration's trade policies, US Trade Representative Katherine Tai told the United Steelworkers on Wednesday (Aug 11), vowing a new approach to China's unfair trade and economic practices.

Tai said in remarks at the union's annual convention in Las Vegas that President Joe Biden's "worker-centred" trade and economic policies were producing results, with manufacturing jobs and industrial production rising.

Trade policy will no longer neglect the needs of workers and domestic investments such as last year's infrastructure act and the US$430 billion (S$589 billion) climate, drugs and tax bill will create more job opportunities - and demand for steel, Tai said.

"Worker-centred trade starts with workers at the table. But it's got to be more than that. You also need to be able to provide substantive input. And, most importantly, to see your impact on policy," Tai said.

Unions also will be a centrepiece of trade discussions with the European Union, Tai said, adding that USTR would also continue to press labour rights cases under the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement on trade.

Labour is a key constituency for Biden, who has described himself as the most pro-labour president ever and who heavily relied on unions to power his Democratic Party primary and general election victories in 2020.

Tai's remarks did not specifically mention the Biden administration's deliberations on whether to tariffs on Chinese goods, a move that has been debated within the White House for months.

Sources have told Reuters that US officials are now recalibrating their thinking on whether to some scrap tariffs or launch a new "Section 301" investigation, setting aside those options for now in the wake of China's unprecedented war games around Taiwan in response House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's visit to the island.

The United Steelworkers and other unions have urged USTR to keep the tariffs on Chinese goods in place to help "level the playing field" for American workers and reduce US reliance on Chinese suppliers.

Tai has argued in favour of keeping the tariffs as leverage as part of a strategy to press China for changes to its state driven economic policies.

'Pragmatic approach' to China

In her remarks, Tai said China's "state supported industrial policies undercut the prosperity of Americans, suppressed labour rights, and weakened environmental standards."

She added that this has especially hurt US steel production and employment and vowed to avoid a repeat for other industries by "using every tool at my disposal to hold China accountable."

"We need to take a new, holistic, and pragmatic approach," Tai said. "Years of dialogues and trade disputes have not led to meaningful reform. We're not sitting around waiting for China to change."

This includes by investing in American workers and infrastructure through initiatives like the US$52.7 billion CHIPS Act to boost semiconductor production and research, she said, as well as working with US allies to present a united front to Beijing.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.