WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Katherine Tai, President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, will have a full inbox waiting if she is confirmed by the U.S. Senate after a confirmation hearing on Thursday.
U.S. allies, global corporations, domestic industries and labor groups are eager to see how she will address the upheaval after President Donald Trump’s “America First” trade policies.
Here are the top issues:
EUROPE AND AIRCRAFT SUBSIDIES
Four U.S. administrations have argued with Europe over past government aid to aircraft manufacturers since 2004. After WTO rulings, both Washington and Brussels put tariffs on billions of dollars of aircraft and food and wine imports.
The restaurant and the liquor industry will press Tai to reach a deal and lift these, while Boeing Co, the top U.S. exporter, wants European tariffs on its aircraft lifted as it resumes deliveries of its 737 MAX.
Whether the United States or Europe should allow new subsidies on aircraft is another dilemma, and Brazil is now pushing for an agreement outside the World Trade Organization.
Broader U.S.-EU trade talks, which previously stalled over agriculture imports, steel and aluminum tariffs, aren’t likely a first priority.
REFORMING THE WTO
Tai will lead U.S. efforts to reform the WTO, widely criticized for failing to rein in China’s trade and subsidy practices.
Reversing Trump opposition, the Biden administration has cleared the way for Nigeria’s Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala to be director general on March 1.
One of Tai’s first WTO decisions will be whether to back a temporary intellectual property rule waiver sought by India and South Africa to speed vaccine production in poor regions, potentially upsetting U.S. industry. Okonjo-Iweala has warned against “vaccine nationalism” by rich countries.
The WTO’s Appellate Body, a kind of a supreme court of global trade, was disabled after Trump blocked appointments of new judges. Tai is expected to review that decision but it could take time to rebuild the dispute settlement process.
WTO members missed an end-2020 deadline for a deal to cut subsidies that have helped decimate the world’s fish stocks.
Since its launch in 1995, the WTO has concluded only one new trade agreement. If this one comes together, WTO insiders joke, it won’t be the WTO that will save fish, but fish that will save the WTO.
Britain and the United States started formal talks on a new bilateral trade agreement last year, after Britain’s exit from the European Union.
The Trump administration floated a “mini” trade deal, but it is unclear whether Tai will seal it, or try for a more comprehensive agreement.
CONGRESSIONAL TRADE PROMOTION AUTHORITY
Tai will also lead negotiations with Congress to renew Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), the “fast-track” negotiating powers granted the U.S. president that are due to expire on July 1. Comprehensive trade deals are largely impossible without it.
Democrats who control Congress want new labor and climate change standards, as well as stronger congressional involvement in developing trade policy. As a congressional staffer, Tai chafed at Trump’s actions to negotiate deals without consulting Congress.
DIGITAL SERVICES TAXES
Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen has vowed to dive back into multilateral negotiations on global taxation of tech firms that Group of Seven officials hope to wrap up by mid-2021.
Under Trump, USTR threatened tariffs on French goods over France’s digital services tax, which Washington said discriminates against U.S. tech firms. It also found similar problems in Britain, Austria and four other countries.
Tai’s team also needs to evaluate the “Phase 1” U.S.-China trade deal. China’s purchases of U.S. goods and services in 2020 fell 42% short of targets set in the accord.
U.S. companies want China’s industrial subsidies and non-tariff barriers removed, and intellectual property protections expanded, in exchange for easing tariffs on some $370 billion in Chinese goods.
Biden officials have said tariffs will remain in place for now, and have pledged to work with U.S. allies to put more pressure on China to change what they call “abusive” practices.
JAPAN AND KENYA
U.S. lawmakers and rice farmers, meanwhile, are pushing Washington to start talks with Japan about a comprehensive trade agreement after a less-than-satisfying mini-deal signed by the Trump administration.
The Trump administration also launched talks with Kenya on a bilateral trade pact that could serve as a model for additional agreements across the African continent.
Reporting by Andrea Shalal; Additional reporting by David Lawder in Washington and Phil Blenkinsop in Brussels; Editing by Heather Timmons and Sam Holmes
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