U.S. will use all steps necessary to defend its economic interests against China, top trade official says

WASHINGTON – U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai slammed China’s unfair trade practices and vowed to protect U.S. economic interests in a speech Monday, adding that the Biden administration will rally allies in order to push back on the world’s second-largest economy.

“Our objective is not to inflame trade tensions with China,” Tai said in an address to an audience at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington-based think tank.

“But above all else, we must defend to the hilt our economic interests and that means taking all steps necessary to protect ourselves against the waves of damage inflicted over the years through unfair competition,” said Tai, the nation’s top trade official.

During her address, Tai confirmed a CNBC report last week saying that the Biden administration believed that Beijing has not complied with the phase one trade deal.

According to the deal, which was brokered under then-President Donald Trump and signed in January 2020, Beijing agreed to buy at least $200 billion more in U.S. goods and services over 2020 and 2021, compared with 2017. However, according to U.S. export data compiled by the Peterson Institute for International Economics, China has only reached 62% of that target.

The deal is slated to expire at the end of 2021.

Tai told CNBC’s Kayla Tausche in an exclusive interview on Monday that she was looking forward to leading the negotiations with the Chinese on behalf of the Biden administration, despite seemingly little appetite from Beijing to improve the bilateral relationship.

“Honestly I don’t know if I can trust Beijing until I talk to Beijing,” Tai said of China’s shortcomings on the phase one deal. “We don’t know what we can accomplish until we try,” she added.

Last week, Tai alongside Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo and Secretary of State Antony Blinken met with European Union leaders at the inaugural meeting of the U.S.-EU Trade and Technology Council.

The meeting of the TTC in Pittsburgh to discuss ways to deepen cooperation on trade and tech signals Western ambition to compete more effectively with China. 

“America is most effective when we work with our allies,” Raimondo told CNBC ahead of the U.S.-EU meeting. “If we really want to slow down China’s rate of innovation, we need to work with Europe.”

Similarly, Tai said in her address Monday that the Biden administration will work closely with U.S. allies and like-minded partners “towards building truly fair, international trade that enables healthy competition.”

“We need to be prepared to deploy all tools and explore the development of new ones, including through collaboration with other economies and countries. And we must chart a new course to change the trajectory of our bilateral trade dynamic,” Tai said.

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