US President-elect Joe Biden has named Katherine Tai his top trade negotiator and enforcer as US Trade Representative. If confirmed, she will take over ongoing trade talks with Indian counterpart Commerce Minister Piyush Goyal, from Robert Lighthizer, a Trump administration hardliner.
The Taiwanese-American, who will be the first Asian-origin person to head this federal agency, currently serves as the chief lawyer on trade for the powerful Ways and Means Committee of the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives and was previously chief counsel on China trade enforcement in the Office of the United States Trade Representative.
The Biden-Harris transition team said Tai’s experience will allow the incoming administration to “hit the ground running on trade, and harness the power of our trading relationships to help the US dig out of the Covid-induced economic crisis and pursue the President-elect’s vision of a pro-American worker trade strategy”.
India and the United States have been negotiating an interim trade deal that will eventually pave the way for an ambitious Free Trade Agreement. Talks started in the summer of 2019 after the Trump administration ended special benefits for India under US trade promotion programme that had allowed more than $6 billion worth of Indian goods to enter America free of import duty. The US wants greater access to India markets in dairy and medical devices sectors and the removal of what it has called discriminatory rules.
Officials on both sides have been optimistic of signing the initial pact— which was said to be a “a few phones calls away” at one stage. There were expectations they could sign it after the November 3 elections. Lighthizer’s tough negotiating positions have been seen by Indians as the key reason for the prolonged talks.
Biden also announced former US National Security Adviser Susan Rice to head his domestic policy council; former Obama chief of staff Dennis McDonough at secretary of veteran affairs; Tom Vilsack as agriculture secretary for third term; and Congresswoman Marcia Fudge as secretary of housing.