Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai at the International Trade Union Confederation Panel on Transforming the WTO to Deliver Social Justice

ABU DHABI – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today delivered remarks at the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC) Panel on Transforming the WTO to Deliver Social Justice, on the margins of the Thirteenth World Trade Organization (WTO) Ministerial Conference (MC13). 
In her remarks, Ambassador Tai underscored the need for trade to empower working communities and to help build the middle class.  Ambassador Tai also emphasized that the WTO must shift its focus to workers, in line with the organization’s founding principles, to ensure the benefits of trade are shared broadly.
Ambassador Tai’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Thank you, Luc.  I am delighted to be here.  Let me also thank my colleagues and distinguished guests who have made time to attend this important panel discussion. 
I am glad the ITUC put together this panel to provide all of us with the opportunity to discuss the important nexus between trade and labor, and critically, to do so in the framework of the WTO. 
The Biden-Harris Administration believes that trade should be a force for good, for everyone, but to do so we must work to ensure that trade empowers workers and that working communities enjoy the benefits of trade.
Trade policy has historically centered around maximum tariff liberalization and the pursuit of efficiency and low costs.
This approach focused on providing benefits for our biggest companies, on the theory that those benefits would necessarily trickle down to our workers, small businesses, and communities. 
But over time, what we have seen is that these benefits do not trickle very far down.
Over the last three years, our Administration has been focused on fundamentally shifting this narrative to focus on the middle class and workers through what we call a worker-centered trade policy.
This means we are centering workers in our trade policy development, in our assessments of whether a particular policy position is working effectively, and in our implementation and enforcement actions.
It means that we judge our success not just on how much we trade, but on how that trade helps to support decent work, including good-paying, rights-respecting, secure, and safe jobs for workers.
This policy is in line with a broader, government-wide approach to global labor issues, that was recently outlined in the November 2023 Presidential Memorandum on Advancing Worker Empowerment, Rights, and High Labor Standards Globally.
One priority identified in our Global Rights Strategy is seeking greater cooperation on labor issues in multilateral forums, like the WTO.
Working people in many of our societies are reporting an increasing sense of economic insecurity, and our work at the WTO can focus more on better reflecting their interests.
That can include exchanging information on how we are using innovative trade tools to drive a race to the top for our working people.
For the United States, one example is how we have been fervently using the Rapid Response Mechanism, or the RRM, under the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement.
This mechanism is transformative in that it allows us to bring cases against specific facilities that do not respect the rights of workers to freedom of association and collective bargaining.
Since 2021, the United States has sought Mexico’s review under the RRM 19 times at facilities that span various industries, including automotive, garments, mining, and services. 
These cases have directly benefited over 27,000 workers in Mexico.  Free and fair elections to select independent unions.  New collective bargaining agreements.  Major salary increases.  Reinstatements for those wrongfully terminated.  Safer working conditions.
For the WTO to remain effective and relevant, we need to shift our focus to workers, in line with the organization’s founding principles, which include raising living standards and ensuring full employment.
The good news is that the WTO and the multilateral trading system’s rules were never meant to be immutable or static.  The creators of the WTO envisioned an organization that would change and adapt through negotiations among its Members.
This is why we are working with other WTO Members and Dr. Ngozi on a comprehensive reform agenda.  And we are making progress along the way.
Last year, we achieved a groundbreaking agreement in the decades-long WTO fisheries subsidies negotiations.
We are proud to be among the first WTO members to accept the WTO Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies, which is the first ever multilateral trade agreement with environmental sustainability at its core.
By prohibiting harmful subsidies, this agreement will help support the livelihoods of fishers and workers in the United States and around the world.

As part of the next phase of negotiations for this agreement, we are working to shine a light on the use of forced labor on fishing vessels, which is not just a human rights and moral issue, but a fair competition issue.
This is one example of how we can work together at the WTO to bring labor issues to the fore. 
All of you here play an important role in realizing this vision, and I look forward to our discussion.  Thank you.