New U.S. trade chief Tai focused on CUSMA, China ties in calls

New trade deals on hold for now, White House says

U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai is sworn in at the White House on March 18, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Tom Brenner)

Washington | Reuters — New U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai mapped out her priorities and Washington’s desire to rebuild alliances in initial calls on Monday with her counterparts from Canada, Britain and the European Union.

Tai, sworn in Thursday as President Joe Biden’s top trade negotiator, emphasized climate change, racial equity and the need to work together to address concerns about forced labour and other issues related to China, her office said.

U.S. allies have been anxious to start talks with Tai after years of tariffs and tensions during the Trump administration. The White House has said it will put new trade deals on hold until it completes a review of all of Trump’s trade policies.

The need to reform the World Trade Organization, which is also under new leadership, was another common theme.

In her first call, Tai agreed with Canada’s trade minister, Mary Ng, to pursue a ministerial-level meeting of the Canada-U.S.-Mexico trade agreement’s (CUSMA) governing body, including Mexico’s trade minister, the USTR office said in a statement.

Both officials agreed to engage on priorities such as recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change and environmental issues, forced labour and WTO reform, it said.

The two also discussed the importance of fully implementing the U.S.-Mexico-Canada pact that went into effect last year, and building a partnership that advances racial equity and supports underserved communities, USTR said.

Ng, in a separate release, said she also raised the issues of U.S. tariffs on Canadian softwood lumber and solar products, as well as “Buy America” provisions.

China was a key topic in calls with British trade minister Liz Truss and EU trade commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis.

USTR said Tai and Truss agreed to “work constructively to address unfair trade practices of non-market economies, such as China,” including looking at issues such as use of forced labour.

Britain said they resolved to collaborate on shared concerns at the Group of Seven and WTO.

They also agreed to work together on the pandemic and a longstanding dispute over aircraft subsidies, USTR said.

Tai discussed her review of U.S.-U.K. free trade agreement talks conducted under the Trump administration and discussions would continue at the G7 ministerial meeting in March, it said.

Prospects for reaching a U.S.-UK deal are slim ahead of the expiration of congressional “trade promotion authority” this summer, sources said, but the two sides hope to work on other priorities, including global digital taxation talks.

In her discussion with Dombrovskis, Tai highlighted the importance of transatlantic trade and investment, and “emphasized her strong desire to build on a positive and productive relationship with the European Union,” USTR said.

They also discussed their interest in resolving the aircraft subsidy dispute and addressing global steel and aluminum overcapacity.

— Reporting for Reuters by Andrea Shalal. Includes files from Glacier FarmMedia Network staff.

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