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Biden trade nominee Tai wins unanimous U.S. Senate backing in procedural vote

FILE PHOTO: Katherine C. Tai addresses the Senate Finance committee hearings to examine her nomination to be United States Trade Representative, with the rank of ambassador, in Washington February 25, 2021. Bill O'Leary/Pool via REUTERS

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Katherine Tai, President Joe Biden’s nominee for U.S. Trade Representative, won unanimous support in a U.S. Senate procedural vote on Tuesday and appeared set for confirmation on Wednesday.

The rare 98-0 vote on the motion to end debate on the nomination means Tai, 47, will easily win bipartisan confirmation. Plans for a Wednesday vote on her nomination were confirmed by a spokeswoman for Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer.

Confirmation would put Tai, the former chief Democratic trade lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee and USTR China enforcement chief, to work immediately on a range of trade issues. These include trying to resolve festering disputes with European countries over aircraft subsidies and digital services taxes to confronting Chinese trade practices and enforcing new labor rights provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement.

“Katherine Tai is going to make a great U.S. trade representative,” Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden said on the Senate floor before the vote. “She’s got the right diversity of experience. She’s focused on protecting American workers and creating new high-skill, high-wage jobs in this country.”

At her confirmation hearing in late February, Tai backed the use of tariffs as a “legitimate tool” to counter China’s state-driven economic model and vowed stronger enforcement of trade agreements -- including those with Beijing -- while promising end a “race to the bottom” on trade.

“The 98-0 vote in favor does, I believe, show her views are in line with many senators on trade,” said Mary Lovely, a trade economist at Syracuse University.

Lovely added that Tai has satisfied pro-labor lawmakers by playing an important role in negotiating stronger labor provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement and has satisfied China hawks by vowing to hold Beijing to its promises.

Only two senators in the evenly split chamber did not participate in the Tai procedural vote, Republican Senator Cynthia Lummis and Democratic Senator Mazie Hirono.

Just before the Tai procedural vote, the Senate voted 81-17 to confirm Isabel Guzman as the leader of the Small Business Administration, an agency playing a central role in providing aid to small firms hurt by the coronavirus pandemic.

Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Leslie Adler, Jonathan Oatis and David Gregorio