NEW YORK -- Katherine Tai, U.S. President-elect Joe Biden's pick for the next United States trade representative, introduced herself to the nation Friday by recalling a scene from earlier in her career at the agency she will now lead.
"A colleague and I from USTR went to Geneva to present a case suing China before the World Trade Organization," she told a news conference at the Biden transition headquarters in Wilmington, Delaware.
"We sat down at the table -- she, whose parents had emigrated from South India, and I, whose parents had come from Taiwan -- and my heart swelled with pride as we raised our placard and stated that we were there to present the case on behalf of the United States of America," Tai said.
Tai was born in Connecticut to immigrants who had been born in China and raised in Taiwan before moving to the U.S. in the Kennedy years. Now she is tasked with serving as the frontwoman for American trade negotiations with far greater political implications than in the past.
"She's going to work closely with my economic and national security and foreign policy teams," Biden said. "Trade will be a critical pillar in our ability to build back better and carry out our foreign policy -- foreign policy for the middle class."
Tai now serves as the chief lawyer on trade for the House Ways and Means Committee -- one of Congress' most powerful units, with jurisdiction over taxes, tariffs and other revenue-raising measures.
Tai played a key role in negotiating stronger labor provisions with the Trump administration in the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal. She was previously chief counsel for China trade enforcement at USTR from 2011 to 2014.
Biden touched on that latter experience.
"During the Obama-Biden administration, she was the chief trade enforcer against unfair trade practices by China, which will be a key priority in the Biden-Harris administration," the president-elect said.
"Enforcement" was a key term that current USTR Robert Lighthizer emphasized in the China trade talks. The word appears 42 times in the "phase one" trade agreement signed by the U.S. and China in January.
The relevant provisions include establishing a mechanism to protect intellectual property, enforcing trademark rights, and ensuring that exchange rate policy is fair and transparent.
Biden's emphasis on her experience as a trade enforcer and repeated mentions of a "foreign policy for the middle class" suggest that outgoing President Donald Trump's "tough on China" trade policies look set to remain in place, at least for the foreseeable future.
"She understands that we need ... to be considerably more strategic than we've been in how we trade, and that makes us all stronger, how we're made stronger by trade," he said. "One that leaves nobody behind."
In her own comments, Tai took subtle digs at Trump's undiplomatic negotiating stance.
"Trade is like any other tool in our domestic or foreign policy -- it is not an end in itself," she said. "It is a means to create more hope and opportunity for people."
But Tai also echoed the president-elect's focus on the middle class.
"I am very proud to be an advocate for American workers, to stand up for their ingenuity and their innovation and for America's interests across the globe," she said. "I look forward to harnessing the power of our trade relationships, to help communities lift themselves out of the current crisis."
If confirmed, Tai would be the first Asian American and first woman of color to serve as trade czar.