BOSTON – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today delivered remarks at the New England Council’s 2022 Annual Celebration and received the organization’s New Englander of the Year Award.
Ambassador Tai was introduced by the Chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, Richard E. Neal. In her remarks, Ambassador Tai discussed her connection to the New England region. She also detailed New England’s key role in the history of U.S. trade and commerce – and how the Biden Administration’s worker-centered trade agenda can help workers throughout the region.
Ambassador Tai’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:
Thank you, Chairman Neal, for that kind introduction. It is an honor to be here with you tonight, and to receive this award. And thanks to the Council for inviting me and for hosting this event.
I had the privilege of working for Chairman Neal for many years when I was his Chief Trade Counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee.
And it was a true honor to work for the Chairman, Speaker Pelosi, and the Working Group they appointed to renegotiate the USMCA in 2019. I will never forget watching the vote tally go up on the wall from the House floor on December 19th of that year, as 385 Members of the House of Representatives voted to pass the most pro-worker trade agreement the United States has concluded in our history.
You know, Chairman Neal voted against the original NAFTA—almost thirty years ago—because it wasn’t a good deal for Massachusetts and New England. So, when the responsibility to renegotiate the USMCA came to him, he made sure that it would significantly improve on the old agreement for the workers and businesses in this region.
It is a special honor to receive this award this evening because my story also begins in New England. My parents came to the United States in the 1960s to pursue graduate degrees in Massachusetts and Connecticut. They met and got married here in New England, and I was born at the Yale-New Haven Hospital—the first American in my family.
Though we moved to the greater Washington, DC area when I was two, I came back to endure — or rather, to embrace seven frigid winters through college and law school.
I was born in New England and I also became an adult in New England. I learned to read, write, and think critically here, while sharing picnics on the banks of Walden Pond, eating my way through Boston’s North End and New Haven’s Wooster Square, and attending my first pop music concert to see the Indigo Girls in Lowell.
During law school, I also volunteered as a mediator at a small claims court near Boston—and I think I learned everything about dispute settlement there, which has really come in handy in my career as a trade lawyer.
All that to say, New England has a special place in my heart.
New England is also the heart of America’s history as a nation born from trade—this region was founded on commerce and flourished because of the transformative power that comes from the movement of goods, people, and ideas.
But New England also has a history of asking tough questions on the human impacts of trade—including through its role in the abolitionist movement and its experience as an early American industrial region that has experienced its share of deindustrialization over time.
From my first day on the job as U.S. Trade Representative, I’ve been working to ask the tough questions about where U.S. trade policy has taken us and how we pursue new approaches to do trade better—and simply to do better by our citizens. What we need is trade policy that raises the tide for more Americans. Makes our supply chains more resilient. Mitigates the crisis from a warming planet. Places the livelihoods and opportunities for our workers front and center. And I have great partners in this endeavor—people like Chairman Neal and Boston’s own, Secretary of Labor Marty Walsh.
These values are at the core of all of our work on trade right now. Whether it’s the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, the Trade and Technology Council with the European Union, or the Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership with Kenya, my priority is to partner strategically with other countries to rebuild confidence in the global economy yes, but also to rebuild confidence in the fairness of the global economy.
New England is rich in history and also rich in talent. I was in Boston almost exactly a year ago and spoke at an event hosted by the New England Council and the University of Massachusetts. I visited New Hampshire in August. The people that I meet on these trips—small business owners, workers, and students—remind me of why I do what I do. Their resilience and dreams fuel my resolve to work as hard as I possibly can.
We need that same spirit as we write the next chapter on trade. And it’s the spirit embodied by so many of the past honorees of this award—like Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro and USAID Administrator Sam Power.
It is a great honor to be among you and an even greater honor to be considered one of you.