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How Biden’s Trade Representative Is Undermining American National Interests

Growing evidence suggests that U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, appointed by President Biden, is actively undermining American economic interests when it comes to digital trade and abandoning our most vital industries on the global stage. From taking cues from progressive activists to praising European regulations that disproportionately target U.S. companies, Tai’s actions are a troubling shift away from bipartisan precedent and the U.S. national interest.

Recent Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests submitted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce highlight the influence progressive organizations like Rethink Trade, Public Citizen and Open Markets Institute have over the USTR’s decision-making under Tai’s leadership. Heavily redacted emails suggest these groups enjoy a privileged relationship with senior USTR officials and seem to be driving key policy reversals, such as the withdrawal of U.S. support for cross-border data flow provisions and rules preventing discriminatory treatment of U.S. companies by foreign governments.

“Rather than work to deliver for American workers, farmers, and small businesses, the Administration … surrenders U.S. leadership on priorities like digital trade”—U.S. House Way & Means Chairman Jason Smith (R-MO) during a committee hearing featuring USTR Katherine Tai.

Tai’s public statements praising the European Union’s heavy-handed approach to regulating U.S. tech companies, as embodied in the Digital Markets Act (DMA), further underscore her misplaced priorities. By suggesting a company’s nationality shouldn’t dictate who the USTR advocates for, Tai is effectively signaling that appeasing European regulators takes precedence over defending American firms and workers – an unacceptable abdication of her core responsibilities.

The USTR’s failure to push back against discriminatory foreign regulations like the DMA in its latest National Trade Estimate report, after flagging concerns for the past three years, sends the message that the Biden administration is unwilling to stand up for U.S. economic interests in digital trade. This dangerous approach risks ceding ground to adversaries like China in the fight for a free and open internet.

At a time of intensifying global competition, the United States cannot afford to have its chief trade negotiator prioritizing progressive politics over the prosperity of American businesses and workers. The U.S. tech sector is an indispensable driver of economic growth and competitiveness, and hamstringing its ability to thrive internationally to score political points is strategically short-sighted and economically self-defeating.

“The United States needs to be a leader in setting the rules of the road for digital trade so our creators and innovators get a fair shake in foreign markets … we must also push for digital trade rules that will protect the free and open internet, help small businesses, and push back on China’s model of digital surveillance and censorship”—U.S. Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) during a committee hearing featuring USTR Katherine Tai. 

Ambassador Tai’s actions reflect a broader problem with the Biden administration’s approach to America’s tech industry. From its radical and misguided actions in U.S. antitrust law, including several frivolous cases against our leading national companies, to endorsing burdensome regulatory proposals in areas like content moderation and privacy, this administration has repeatedly subordinated American economic and consumer interests to ideological crusades. This weakens America’s position in the global digital economy and emboldens foreign governments to use burdensome regulation to exploit U.S. companies as piggy banks. USTR Tai’s passive approach to defending U.S. economic interests allows foreign governments to profit at the expense of American innovation.

It’s time for the Biden administration to reassert American leadership on digital trade. That starts with a U.S. Trade Representative who unapologetically advocates for U.S. innovators, entrepreneurs and workers, working to pry open international markets, break down barriers, and ensure a level playing field for U.S. firms. Anything less will have lasting consequences for American competitiveness in the 21st century.

The stakes are too high for half-measures and politicized capitulation. It’s time to put American interests first.