President-elect Joe Biden will nominate House Ways and Means Committee trade lawyer Katherine Tai as U.S. trade representative, according to two people familiar with the decision.
Biden’s pick will be responsible for repairing economic ties with allies chastened by outgoing President Donald Trump’s trade wars while fulfilling his campaign pledge to stay tough on China. The post is a Cabinet-level position within the Executive Office of the President.
Democratic trade leaders in Congress coalesced around Tai soon after the election as a skilled negotiator who has the experience to fulfill that goal.
The Biden transition declined to comment.
A former China enforcement head at USTR who is fluent in Mandarin, backers say Tai has expertise that can help the U.S. confront Beijing on issues like forced labor and intellectual property rights while preserving a functioning trade relationship between the world’s two largest economies.
Lawmakers in both chambers were impressed by Tai’s handling of the negotiations in Congress with the Trump administration over changes sought to the U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal that replaced NAFTA. Her supporters say tough labor and environmental standards that she pushed to include in that pact could serve as a model for when the Biden team negotiates with reluctant countries for other trade deals.
Crucially for Biden, both labor and big business groups in Washington have privately signaled their openness to Tai as the nominee. Democratic supporters say she could garner bipartisan support in the Senate. Sen. Mike Crapo, (R-Idaho), who is expected to lead the Finance Committee if the GOP retains control of the chamber, did not respond to a request for comment on her potential nomination.
A nominee with Hill experience would be helpful given that a major trade bill, Trade Promotion Authority, will expire next summer, setting up a possible legislative fight. Rep. Earl Blumenauer, the head of the House Ways and Means trade panel, has said he may consider pushing major changes to White House negotiating authority under that law after many Democrats thought Trump abused it.