A Conversation With United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai

by Creating Change Mag
A Conversation With United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai

Since 1938, May has been recognized as World Trade Month when the importance of international trade to the U.S. economy is recognized. Small and medium sized businesses are the backbone of international trade, accounting for 98 percent of all identified U.S. exporters and supporting nearly four million jobs in communities across the country through both direct and indirect exports.

Katherine Tai currently serves as the United States Trade Representative (USTR), where she leads the U.S. government’s trade negotiations with the rest of the world. As USTR, she has been integral in strengthening our foreign economic partnerships and rebuilding our supply chains that were disrupted by Covid-19.

I recently spoke with Ambassador Tai on her experience as USTR, the opportunities her office has created for small and medium sized businesses, and Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander (AANHPI) Heritage Month. Below is our conversation, edited for clarity.

Rhett Buttle: It’s been just over two years since you were sworn in as the United States Trade Representative. Tell us about the experience and what you feel you’ve accomplished.

Ambassador Tai: It’s been busy from day one. We’ve gone through a lot with respect to Covid recovery. We’ve also gone through a lot in terms of implementing President Biden’s vision for building the U.S. economy from the bottom up and the middle out. At USTR we have a special focus on who’s at the bottom that we want to help lift up into the middle and how to expand out and build out our middle class. We ask what can we do, from a trade policy perspective, to contribute to this overall goal? We have a special focus on workers. This is a recognition that, in the past, across many administrations, U.S. trade policy focused really on catering to the needs and the interests of the largest economic participants in our system. I think that it’s really important that we bring these workers in, because they have not been at the center before.

The other part is also looking at the smaller and medium-sized businesses. They also are the backbone of Main Street, and the backbone of our economy as well. So we are pushing ourselves in new ways to connect with the community of small businesses, to open up channels of communication, and ask the question, how can we use the tools in trade policy, which can be very powerful, to also champion your interest to help you grow and prosper?

Rhett Buttle: One of the areas you have been focused on is strengthening our trade relationships, specifically with Taiwan, Kenya, and others, with a priority on sustainability and resilience. Why is this important for the Biden Administration’s trade agenda?

Ambassador Tai: It’s about connecting us to the needs of our people. At the end of the day, our economy is made up of human beings. Today, in 2023, we have gone through several years now of the pandemic and associated economics disruptions. They’ve impacted all of our lives from what it was like in lockdown, scrambling for toilet paper or waiting for cars and washing machines because of the microchip shortage. What we have really internalized now is that the world trading system that we have that we’ve built over the last many decades was good at many things, but it actually was not good at fostering supply chains that are resilient. The supply chains are very efficient until something breaks, and then we realize we have disruptions that are really inconvenient and actually very dangerous in strategic areas.

The reason why it’s really important to strengthen those relationships with partners like Kenya and with Taiwan is because we have common cause. Our goal is really to produce tangible, important results for people around more resilient economies that can withstand shocks better, as there are definitely going to be more shocks. We just don’t know exactly what they will be or when they will come, but we need to have more sustainability so that our people can be promising their kids a bright future with inclusiveness, so that everyone has access to opportunity.

Additionally, with respect to both Kenya and Taiwan, something that’s really exciting here is that we’re connected not just by geostrategy. We’re connected because of our people. The diaspora communities are strong here and as much as I am the official ambassador on trade for the United States, we have so many unofficial investors in our diaspora communities. I think that the trade engagements that we have with Taiwan and with Kenya are an incredible opportunity to reach into those communities and small businesses, and be a bridge between our economies in terms of language and sensitivity to the needs of both economies.

Rhett Buttle: May is World Trade Month. Can you speak to how your office has worked to expand opportunities for trade, specifically for small and medium size businesses?

Ambassador Tai: USTR’s trade policy and engagement with the rest of the world has historically focused on what’s good for our biggest companies, and how that will trickle down to our workers and our communities. Over time, what we’ve seen is that it doesn’t trickle very far down. Our big companies have gotten bigger, but we are struggling to expand opportunities from the bottom up and the middle out. A key part of my approach is to bring the U.S. back into USTR.

It’s inspired by a lot of the members of Congress that I worked for and with back when I was working for the U.S. House of Representatives before I came back into the administration. The best and most dedicated members of Congress are ones who come to Washington to represent their constituents. When they’re not in Washington, they try to spend as much time as they can back at home to make sure that they stay connected with the communities and businesses, especially the small businesses. I think about my job in the same way when I’m here in Washington and I’m representing USTR in Cabinet meetings, or when I’m off in Brussels negotiating with the Europeans, or in Tokyo meeting with the G-7 trade ministers. In order to do my job well, to represent the interests of the United States, I have to get out of Washington and travel the U.S., especially for the individual people and the small companies to meet them where they are and to let them know there is an agency called USTR. Then I ask the questions, what are your dreams? What are your struggles? And how can I incorporate that into my work as we engage in Washington and also the rest of the world?

Rhett Buttle: As you know, May is also AANHPI Heritage Month. As an Asian American serving in the President’s cabinet, what does it mean to represent your community at the highest levels of government?

Ambassador Tai: I’ve had a lot of opportunities to think about and speak on it this month. It is an incredible privilege in honor because I am representing the AANHPI community, which is itself a community of communities, within the cabinet. When we are at the table and we are talking about policy, I’m going to bring the trade perspective, but I also am thinking about, what are the equities of this particular community and how can I be bringing that voice to this conversation. At the same time, I’m also representing the administration to these communities. When I am doing my domestic travel, not only am I connecting with the workers and the small businesses, but I am also looking for an opportunity to connect with the AANHPI communities, whether it is through their activist organizations and organizers or whether it’s with the small businesses.

A couple of the really memorable engagements that I’ve had recently were in Phoenix, where I met with a number of community organizers from the AANHPI community. I also met with AANHPI small businesses on that same trip. Back in 2021, just as we were coming out of Covid and I was starting to do my travel, I went to western Wisconsin and met with the Mong community there at their community center. It just reminded me of the community centers that I grew up with, [laces that you would go to take lessons and engage with your heritage, but also to build your relationships and friendships with other kids who are growing up just like you and were bridging two cultures and living all of the dreams and the struggles of the new American immigrant experience.

Rhett Buttle: This month, you delivered a speech at the University of Southern California which touched on your personal story. What advice would you give to the next generation of AANHPI leaders looking to enter government and perhaps one day serve in the President’s Cabinet?

Ambassador Tai: If I boil down the speech I gave at USC, the message is that you belong despite all of the challenges. Now is a challenging time especially for the AANHPI communities. We have demonstrated our resilience over the history of the United States, and you have to be confident that you belong and take every opportunity to embrace that and to assert it. This community has risen to the challenge and has stood up in new ways. It really inspires me, and I think that the benefits of our success as a community is not just limited to this community of Asian Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Pacific Islanders, but it’s also an essential component to our success as a country.

The post originally appeared on following source : Source link

Related Posts

Leave a Comment