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U.S. Trade Representative Tai, Congress Tussle Over Trade Policy Ambition, Priorities

House and Senate members from both parties pressed U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai for a more robust U.S. trade policy during two separate congressional hearings this week, while also calling for more action on China and other priorities, according to POLITICO Pro (subscription) and Bloomberg (subscription).

Ways and Means Committee testimony: On Wednesday, Tai appeared before the House Ways and Means Committee. Chairman Richard Neal (D-MA) emphasized the importance of negotiating trade agreements with the European Union and Kenya in order to improve global supply resiliency. Trade Subcommittee Ranking Member Adrian Smith (R-NE) focused on the importance of negotiating robust and enforceable trade agreements and voiced concerns about the proposed World Trade Organization’s Trade-Related Aspects of Intellectual Property Rights (TRIPS) waiver, as well as the need to counter harmful Chinese trade practices.

  • Tai said “the sky’s the limit” when it comes to negotiating new trade agreements with the EU, Kenya and the United Kingdom, and she showed little appetite for tariff-cutting agreements, according to POLITICO Pro.

Senate Finance testimony: On Thursday, Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) underscored the importance of the U.S. standing up to China, protecting American workers and businesses and preventing a “race to the bottom” on basic rights. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-WA) criticized the Biden administration for its lack of focus on opening market access and eliminating tariffs. Committee Ranking Member Mike Crapo (R-ID) said that the administration’s dialogues and frameworks, such as the proposed Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and U.S.–EU Trade and Technology Council, are “no substitute for comprehensive trade agreements.”

  • The U.S. is interested not only in negotiating new agreements with partners, Tai said, but also in ensuring that “our trade agreements process evolves over time,” according to Bloomberg.
  • On China, Tai emphasized the need for a “realignment in our trade relationship, and she pointed to Beijing’s ‘industrial targeting practices’ that have allowed the country to ‘again and again, corner the market in critical industries and now increasingly in future industries,’” according to the AFP.

The NAM says: In an interview with POLITICO Pro (subscription) before the hearings, NAM Vice President of International Economic Affairs Ken Monahan underscored the importance for manufacturers of negotiating new U.S. trade agreements.

  • Monahan emphasized the need to hold China “accountable for its trade commitments, ensuring that we tackle harmful trade actions and fight for a level playing field for manufacturers,” while also urging “quick action for a comprehensive, fair and transparent exclusion process that allows the industry to seek (Section) 301 tariff relief, on a case-by-case basis with meaningful retroactivity.”
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