WASHINGTON – This week, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai visited the University of North Carolina to speak with students on the Biden-Harris Administration’s inclusive, worker-centered trade policy.
During the conversation, Ambassador Tai emphasized the importance of this new approach to trade in delivering a more resilient, sustainable, and equitable economy. She also highlighted USTR’s efforts to meet with more people across the country to ensure their voices and priorities are incorporated into this new story on trade.
Speaking to a crowd of students, faculty, and staff as part of UNC’s Diplomacy Initiative, she stressed the importance of empowering workers and investing in America, stating, “trade policy that works for America has to work for as much of America as possible.”
Watch the Ambassador’s full speech and fireside chat here.
Ambassador Tai’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Barbara, thank you for that kind introduction. It’s great to be here with all of you today in Tarheel Country.
Lux, libertas—light and liberty. These are the founding principles of this historic institution.
I am here almost a month since the tragic shooting that happened on campus, taking the life of Professor Zijie Yan. Such senseless violence has no place in our country, and my thoughts and prayers are with the professor’s family and friends.
But you stand strong today. More united, more dedicated. Stepping forward for light and liberty for all, toward fulfilling your bold mission, and I quote, “to lead change to improve society and to help solve the world’s greatest problems.”
We need change now more than ever.
As President Biden often says, we are at an inflection point in history. A worsening climate crisis. Widening inequality. A war in Europe that exposed vulnerabilities in our supply chains and heightened the risk of food insecurity. Rapid technological change.
The world you are inheriting is complicated. And issues that are front and center now will continue to be in the world you will shape and lead.
But in the midst of great uncertainty, there is also great opportunity. And the decisions we make today will determine our future for decades to come.
International trade is no exception.
For too long, our trade policies prioritized aggressive liberalization and tariff elimination. This approach did have benefits—we saw increases in economic activity and historic reductions in poverty in some regions.
But the focus on maximum efficiency also had significant costs and side effects. Rising inequality and wealth concentration. Good jobs shipped overseas, decimating manufacturing communities. Dispersed and fragile supply chains.
The status quo hasn’t delivered the results we need, and you deserve changes that make things better and apply lessons from past mistakes.
That is why the Biden-Harris Administration has been writing a new story on trade—one with the goal of a more resilient, sustainable, and fair tomorrow for all our people.
We’re calling this inclusive, worker-centered trade policy. Let me unpack what we mean.
First, we are committed to working with our partners and allies. This is a key theme—strengthening our cooperation with like-minded economies to build a fairer and more sustainable future for our people, for workers, and their communities.
One example of this is the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or the IPEF, our major trade initiative in Asia. The IPEF is not just any traditional trade deal—it is our vision for how countries can collaborate to deliver real opportunities for our people.
Together with thirteen other economies, we’re helping smaller companies compete and thrive in the region and setting responsible standards on labor, the environment, and agriculture.
Another example of cooperation is our work with the European Union.
We settled longstanding trade disputes with the EU so that we can focus on our shared goals and priorities.
That includes negotiations on what we’re calling the Global Arrangement on Sustainable Steel and Aluminum—where the goal is to create a market that rewards fair trade and promotes clean manufacturing and good jobs at the same time.
Second, we are placing workers at the center of our trade policy by enforcing the trade rules we have.
That’s why our Administration has been laser-focused on holding our trading partners accountable. And starts with enforcing commitments under the U.S. – Mexico – Canada Agreement, or the USMCA.
This agreement has a mechanism that allows us to bring cases against specific facilities that do not respect the rights of workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining. This was included when Congressional Democrats re-negotiated the agreement to make it a better deal for workers, and I was proud to be a part of that when I worked for the House Ways & Means Committee.
And over the past year, we’ve secured wins for workers at several different facilities. New collective bargaining agreements. Major salary increases. Safer working conditions. This is having a real impact on working peoples’ lives.
And lastly, we are incorporating more voices to ensure fair and equitable outcomes.
This means putting the “U.S.” back into USTR. To do my job correctly—for us to do trade the right way—I need to hear directly from all across America. Not just the big companies that can afford Washington lobbyists, but workers of all backgrounds and businesses of all sizes.
That is why I embrace the duty of meeting people where they are. As I travel across the country and visit campuses, shops, and factories, I am reminded that we are writing our new story on trade together.
Just on this trip, I’ve met with a number of small business owners and turkey farmers—I’ve learned more about turkeys than I’ve ever imagined.
These conversations are important to me. Not only are we bringing more people to the table, their voices—especially those of historically underrepresented and underserved communities—are helping shape our work in Washington and abroad.
I’m honored to be a part of an administration that is fully dedicated to this vision. To use trade to deliver real results for our people. To build our economy from the middle out and the bottom up. And to restore fundamental fairness, opportunity, and equity.
As President Biden said at the United Nations last week, “At this inflection point in history, we’re going to be judged by whether or not we live up to the promises we have made to ourselves, to each other, to the most vulnerable, and to all those who will inherit the world we create….”
I hope all of you—in whatever career path you choose—take part in this worthy endeavor in one way or another.
Thank you for having me.