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U.S. trade chief Tai focused on USMCA, China ties in first trade calls

WASHINGTON — New U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai mapped out her priorities and Washington’s desire to rebuild alliances in initial calls on Monday with her counterparts from Canada, Britain and the European Union.

Tai, sworn in on Thursday as U.S. President Joe Biden’s top trade negotiator, emphasized climate change, racial equity and the need to work together to address concerns about forced labor and other issues related to China, her office said.

U.S. allies have been anxious to start talks with Tai after years of tariffs and tensions during the Trump administration. The White House has said it will put new trade deals on hold until it completes a review of all of Trump’s trade policies.

The need to reform the World Trade Organization, which is also under new leadership, was another common theme.

Tai agreed with Canada’s trade minister, Mary Ng, to pursue a ministerial-level meeting of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement’s (USMCA) governing body, including Mexico’s trade minister, the USTR office said in a statement.

Both officials agreed to engage on priorities such as recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and environmental issues, forced labor and WTO reform, it said.

The two also discussed the importance of fully implementing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada pact that went into effect last year, and building a partnership that advances racial equity and supports underserved communities, USTR said.

China was a key topic in calls with British trade minister Liz Truss and EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.

USTR said Tai and Truss agreed to “work constructively to address unfair trade practices of non-market economies, such as China,” including looking at issues such as use of forced labor.

Britain said they resolved to collaborate on shared concerns at the Group of Seven and WTO.

They also agreed to work together on the pandemic, the longstanding dispute over aircraft subsidies, USTR said.

Tai discussed her review of U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement talks conducted under the Trump administration and discussions would continue at the G7 ministerial meeting in March, it said.

Prospects for reaching a U.S.-U.K. deal are slim ahead of the expiration of congressional “trade promotion authority” this summer, sources said, but the two sides hope to work on other priorities, including global digital taxation talks.

In her discussion with Dombrovskis, Tai highlighted the importance of transatlantic trade and investment, and “emphasized her strong desire to build on a positive and productive relationship with the European Union,” USTR said.

They also discussed their interest in resolving the aircraft subsidy dispute and addressing global steel and aluminum overcapacity.

  • Katherine Tai

    Katherine Tai, nominee for U.S. trade representative, arrives before a Senate Finance Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021. (Tasos Katopodis/Pool via AP)

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