Biden asks Asian American woman to lead US trade for first time in history

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Katherine Tai is set to 'break barriers' as the 14th U.S. trade representative and the first woman in 24 years in the Cabinet post.

Katherine Tai, President-elect Joe Biden's pick for the nation's top trade post, will make history if she's confirmed as the first Asian American woman — and woman of color, for that matter — in the Cabinet position.

The U.S. trade representative role was created less than 40 years ago, but even in its short history, no woman of color has ever served.

Only 13 officials have served in the position, and for the first 27 years, the role was filled by men.

In 1989, Carla Anderson Hills became the first woman in the position. Since then, only one other woman, Charlene Barshevsky in 1997, has served.

Tai, who currently serves as the chief trade counsel for the House Ways and Means Committee, also speaks fluent Mandarin and served previously served as chief counsel for China Trade Enforcement in the Office of the United States Trade Representative. In that role, she was tasked with representing the United States in disputes against China at the World Trade Organization.

Biden's camp has sung her praises, calling her "a dedicated, deeply respected public servant and veteran international trade expert who has spent her career working to level the playing field for American workers and families."

"Her deep experience will allow the Biden-Harris administration to hit the ground running on trade, and harness the power of our trading relationships to help the U.S. dig out of the COVID-induced economic crisis and pursue the President-elect’s vision of a pro-American worker trade strategy," the transition team said in a press release on Thursday.

Another trade lawyer Lauren Mandell, who worked with Tai at the U.S. trade office, said Tai's experience "successfully litigating trade disputes with China" was "unmatched," according to the South China Morning Post.

"She intimately understands the challenge to the global trading system posed by China, as well as the strengths and weaknesses of the WTO as a tool to advance U.S. interests," Mandell said.

The paper described her as the "first true China trade expert" for the Cabinet's trade role.

Congressional Asian Pacific American Caucus Chair Judy Chu (D-CA) also applauded Biden's pick, saying Tai would be "breaking barriers and clearing the way for others to follow."

Senate Democrats also approved of the pick.

Tai is the "most qualified candidate for the job," Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said in a statement, adding that "she is uniquely prepared to tackle issues on China and knows how to partner with our allies to advance U.S. interests."

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-OR) said Tai has "knows how to champion the values that matter to U.S. families."

"She worked closely with me and my staff to craft the strongest ever protections for American workers in a trade agreement, and pass them into law with bipartisan support," he said.

The ranking member on the Senate finance committee called her "an inspired choice," urging Senate Republicans to approve her confirmation.

Born in Connecticut, Tai is the first American-born citizen in her family. Raised in the Washington, D.C., area, she later graduated from Yale University and Harvard Law School.

Tai's selection makes her the second Asian American woman tapped to serve in Biden's Cabinet, alongside Neera Tanden, who was selected for director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.