Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today delivered keynote remarks at a meeting of the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia.  

In her remarks, Ambassador Tai highlighted how the Biden-Harris Administration has delivered on its worker-centered trade policy over the last two years, including by launching new initiatives like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and by enforcing existing agreements like the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement.  Ambassador Tai also underscored the importance of trade policy to restoring fundamental fairness and equity to the global economic system and delivering real results for workers and small businesses.

Ambassador Tai’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below:

Dr. Kent, thank you for that kind introduction.  It’s great to meet you and to be here with all of you today.

Our Declaration of Independence was signed less than ten blocks from this room.  In that document, our founders enshrined what would be a bedrock principle of our nation – that “[w]e hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

“We the people” began the greatest experiment on earth with the belief that people are at the forefront of our democracy.  

We have not always lived up to this ideal, including on trade policy.  In the pursuit of maximum efficiency and lower costs, people were lost.  Trade became a game of numbers, a race to the bottom – while a handful of corporations and elites reaped their gains, working families and communities were left behind.

But the ingenuity of our democracy is not that it was born perfect – it was designed to be perfected.

So, from day one, President Biden has been clear that “we the people” – including workers, small business owners, women entrepreneurs – should be at the center of our trade and economic agenda.

He promised to build an economy from the bottom up and the middle out – one that puts working families first.  He put forth an economic agenda to do just that, and it’s working.  

More than 10 million jobs have been created since President Biden took office – and 750,000 of them are manufacturing jobs.  Unemployment is near a 50-year low, gas prices are lower than they were this time last year, and wages have been rising faster than inflation.  

The President signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law, so seniors on Medicare can now get a prescription of insulin for just $35 a month.  And Americans can now get thousands of dollars in tax credits to make their homes more energy efficient.

Through the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, he’s rebuilding our infrastructure, supply chains, and manufacturing here at home – and the shovels are hitting the ground in communities across the country.

He also signed the Chips and Science Act, and we’re already seeing historic investments to expand semiconductor manufacturing here in the U.S. and creating good-paying jobs, many of which don’t require a college degree.

In Ohio, Intel is investing $20 billion.  Micron is investing $100 billion in Syracuse.  TSMC is investing $40 billion in Phoenix.  In Poughkeepsie, IBM is investing $20 billion. 

The President has promised that together, we would build a better America, and he is delivering on that promise.

President Biden has also said that “[t]here’s no longer a bright line between foreign and domestic policy.  Every action we take in our conduct abroad, we must take with American working families in mind.”

That is why we are pursuing a worker-centered trade policy, to push us further along on the path to creating a more perfect Union.  We are rewriting the story on trade – to bring more people in, to build a more resilient, sustainable, and inclusive society.

This is at the heart of everything we do, including our new initiatives – like the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework – and our revamped conversations with old partners, like the European Union and Japan.

Let me give you some examples of what this looks like.

The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, or the USMCA, has a mechanism that allows us to take enforcement actions against factories that are not respecting freedom of association and collective bargaining rights.

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 in my previous role.

This is a key tool to drive a race to the top in North America, and we’ve been using it fervently.  It sustains high American labor standards by strengthening the ability of Mexico’s workers to withstand exploitation.

We also created new tools with old friends to bring people back to the center of trade.

With the European Union, we launched the Trade and Technology Council.  We cover a lot of ground in our discussions, but one thing we’ve been focusing on is using digital tools and building skilled workforces, so that small companies on both sides of the Atlantic can thrive and create a more resilient middle class.

We also started the U.S.-EU Trade and Labor Dialogue.  We convened labor, business, and government representatives to help eliminate forced labor in global supply chains and better incorporate stakeholder insights into our work.

And in the first week of this year, we signed a Memorandum of Cooperation with Japan, to create a task force on human rights and labor standards in supply chains. 

We’re doing all this because workers are the engine of our economy, especially for our small businesses.  

Over ten million people have applied to start a small business during our administration.  Pennsylvania is home to over a million small businesses that employ over two million people.  When these businesses thrive, we all thrive, and that’s why we’ve been focused on breaking down barriers and opening doors for them.

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that we are negotiating is a new type of trade agreement with thirteen other countries.

We’re avoiding the pitfalls of traditional trade deals anchored on tariff reductions.  Instead, we’re focusing on things that can help our businesses compete and succeed – like strengthening our supply chains, simplifying customs procedures and facilitating digital trade.

We’ve kicked off talks with our partners in Kenya and Taiwan as well.

Since launching the Strategic Trade and Investment Partnership with Kenya last summer, our teams have been working on a wide range of areas.  Our governments believe that small and women-owned businesses are key to sustained economic growth, so we’re exchanging best practices and moving forward on ways to give them the tools to succeed.

I said this during the President’s Africa Leaders’ Summit last month, but I really believe that the future is Africa.  I personally witnessed Africa’s energy and vibrancy when I visited Nairobi last year.  We have a tremendous opportunity to partner with the continent to drive a human-centric trade agenda, and I’m proud that our Administration is leading the way.

With Taiwan, we just wrapped up a successful negotiating round last week, in Taipei.

Among other things, we’re focusing on how we can better serve businesses owned by underrepresented groups and women entrepreneurs.  Reducing border formalities, facilitating paperless trade, sharing information – these are all areas that we’re working on to help our people thrive in a critical region.

Speaking of important regions, we’re hosting APEC this year.

This is a big deal – we’re bringing twenty other economies to the United States to drive the conversation on building policies that support sustainable and inclusive trade.

This includes lifting up women entrepreneurs and workers, helping small businesses grow, and unlocking economic opportunities for underrepresented parts of our populations.  I can’t wait to show off America’s best when we host trade ministers in Detroit this May.

As you can see, we’ve been busy, and we intend to stay that way, because we believe trade can be transformative.  It can be a force for good to bring lasting change that benefits more people, but only if we’re willing to work for it, to fight for it.

Perfecting our trade policy requires courage, creativity, and confidence.  Courage to challenge the status quo, a willingness to create new ways to tackle new problems, and confidence that we are stronger when we go together.

We’re just scratching the surface of what trade is capable of.  

I’m honored to be a part of an administration, with a team of changemakers, that is fully dedicated to this vision – to restoring fundamental fairness and equity to the global economic system and delivering real results for our people.

I encourage all of you to come alongside us for the ride.  Share your stories and experiences with us, and let’s work together to grow the economic pie for all of us – in Philadelphia and beyond.

Thank you for having me, and I look forward to a meaningful conversation.