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Chairman Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on the Biden Administration’s 2021 Trade Policy Agenda

As prepared for delivery)

Today, we have the privilege to welcome Ambassador Katherine C. Tai, United States Trade Representative.  Ambassador Tai, I am pleased to welcome you back to the Committee in your new, and very well-earned, role.  Your prior work on this committee uniquely positions you to understand – better than most – the importance U.S. trade policy has in supporting American workers, families, and businesses.

Over the past 14 months, the COVID-19 pandemic has upended lives across this country and around the world.  It has exposed the fragility of our economic and health systems, and it has also revealed what many of us have known for quite some time – our economic and health policies have not benefitted everyone equitably. 

As vaccination rates increase and the world begins to re-open, we are left with an economy in need of revitalization and people in need of help. We have an opportunity to set the American economy and American workers on a better course.

As you well know, Democrats on this Committee have been actively working to create policies that are inclusive, equitable, and responsive to the changing dynamics of the global economy.  I am committed to putting forward more informed solutions to correct inequities and to ensure that all Americans are benefitting from trade opportunities. 

Through a trade and equity lens, we must aggressively enforce our trade agreements; ensure that our trade policies help to create good-paying, quality jobs; rebuild alliances with our trading partners to tackle the challenge of a global economic and public health recovery; confront China’s unfair trade practices, human rights abuses, and growing anti-democratic influences; explore new trade opportunities with like-minded countries; and work to ensure that our policies promote racial equity and correct inequities.

Ambassador Tai, you know better than most that the House Democrats fought hard to establish a new structure for aggressive enforcement of USMCA and to provide the necessary funding to bring strong enforcement actions.  I am very proud of the new standards that we established in the USMCA, particularly the closing of loopholes in the state-to-state enforcement mechanism and the creation of the novel rapid response mechanism. 

I was pleased with your announcement yesterday that you will use these tools and pursue alleged labor violations at a General Motors plant in Mexico.  I was equally pleased with the filing of the petition by our labor friends under the rapid response mechanism.  Trade agreements only succeed if they are enforced, and I look forward to working with you to ensure aggressive enforcement of the USMCA that supports workers at home and abroad.

We not only need to ensure that our trading partners are playing by the rules – we also have a responsibility to make sure our own policies and actions are consistent with our trade agreement obligations. This means that as we create new policies that are responsive to the needs of today, we must also respect our international trade commitments.  I am convinced that we can pursue bold, forward-looking polices that comport with our international obligations.

Done right, trade can be a powerful driver for good-paying, quality jobs, and a thriving economy.  We must ensure, however, that our trade policies promote human rights, high labor standards, and environmental protections.  I am deeply troubled by actions coming from China. China’s use of forced labor in Xinjiang, blatant steps to suppress democratic institutions and practices in Hong Kong, alarming threats of invasion in Taiwan, and pervasive unfair trading practices require immediate attention from us.  We must be unwavering in our condemnation of these actions and use every tool available to confront those destructive practices.

But we must not go-it-alone. We must work with our allies to address the challenges we face with China, as well as the steps needed to address the global economic recovery.  Rebuilding trust and strengthening our alliances with Europe, Asia, Africa, and our neighbors in the Americas will be key to our success.

In addition, we must take every available opportunity to urge our trading partners to join our efforts to eradicate forced labor, combat climate change, and sustain institutions and practices that support open societies and fair markets.

We also must reassert ourselves on the world stage, including at the WTO. Multilateral institutions provide a powerful platform to address some of our global challenges.  As the U.S. begins to lead again at the WTO, I urge you to seek long-standing reform of the dispute settlement system, transparency and notification obligations, special and differential treatment, and subsidy disciplines. 

I also implore you to raise issues that have often been overlooked by the institution – namely labor, climate change, and women’s economic empowerment. It is important that the WTO not only correct past mistakes but also look ahead to serve as a platform to address the needs of our times.

As we work to repair our alliances both bilaterally and multilaterally, we cannot miss the opportunity to explore new trade arrangements with like-minded countries. I am especially supportive of deepening ties with Europe and Africa and look forward to partnering with the Administration in developing an approach that benefits both our interests and those of our trading partner. 

Today’s hearing allows the members of this committee to hear from you directly about the Administration’s vision for U.S. trade policy.  And, equally important, this is an opportunity for you to hear from us about our priorities.  This conversation is a building block for the requisite partnership between Congress and the Administration to create trade policies that benefit all Americans.

Trade policy fulfills its greatest potential when it is the product of close collaboration between Congress and the Executive. I am immensely pleased to have someone in the top trade post who understands firsthand that Congress’ involvement in USMCA made the agreement better.  And, I hope to have that same level of partnership as this Administration forges ahead with its agenda.

I look forward to hearing from you on how we can work together to craft a trade policy that corrects the inequities of yesterday, meets the challenges of today, and anticipates the needs of tomorrow.

With that, I will recognize Ranking Member Brady for the purpose of an opening statement.

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