Discussion with U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai

2023 Wenger Lecture: "Writing a New Story on Trade for Fair and Sustainable Growth" 

 U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai (center) with Dean, Roger Fairfax and Professor Padideh Ala'i.

American University's Washington College of Law (AUWCL) hosted the 2023 Wenger Lecture Series on International trade, titled "Writing a New Story on Trade for Fair and Sustainable Growth," featuring U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai as the keynote speaker. The event was moderated by AUWCL Professor Padideh Ala'i with an introduction from AUWCL Dean, Roger A. Fairfax, Jr.

"We are fortunate to be here this evening, as in past years, thanks to the generosity of the Henry E. and Counsuelo S. Wenger Foundation who established this lecture series in 2016 in celebration of their granddaughter and WCL alum, Wellesley Baun," Dean Fairfax said. "I am so honored to be joined by Ambassador Katherine Tai, who will deliver the Wenger Lecture, and Professor Padideh Ala'i, who will serve as the lecture moderator."

 USTR Ambassador Tai

Tai shared her experience in international economic diplomacy, monitoring, and enforcement and discussed the Biden Administration's "worker-centered trade policy" and the importance of trade in promoting fair and sustainable growth, with a focus on addressing global challenges such as climate change and economic inequality. She also emphasized the need for collaboration between countries to address issues such as intellectual property rights and labor standards and building resilience. 

Ambassador Katherine Tai chats with Professor Padideh Ala'i.

"We are working with our partners and not at their expense or at the expense of the most vulnerable," said Ambassador Tai. "That is the key theme of the Biden Administration's new story on trade. Strengthening our cooperation with like-minded economies to forge a more fair and sustainable future for our people. Because the economy is more than numbers – it is people. So, our economic policy must work for our people."

"USTR continues to open key markets around the world for U.S. agricultural products," she said. "We are continuing to secure real wins, and U.S. agricultural exports reached a record $202 billion last year. And we will continue to fight aggressively on behalf of American farmers to ensure that they can compete and win on the global stage."

Professor Ala' emphasized that the work of this administration is breaking down completely the economic-non-economic distinction that has been the cornerstone of the world economic order since end of World War II.

"The Biden administration seems to be focused on "changing" trade rather than "expanding" trade by moving away from traditional free trade agreements (FTAs) to one that does not address market access, emphasizing that the administration is truly writing a new story of what trade policy is about," Ala' said. "Ambassador Tai's experience and dedication to public service will help shape a new approach to trade."  


Ambassador Tai agreed with Professor Alai that the Biden Administration is moving away from traditional FTAs as the original General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) and post-World War II economic order was "among small and likeminded countries and that is no longer the case". 

"Today, many WTO members are concerned with resilience and inclusive trade and that is now the focus of the Biden Administration," she said.

"We are especially proud of our Trade, Investment and Development Program, developed in 2014 to support students interested in trade and to specifically address the linkage of trade to areas such as labor, environment, intellectual property, technology, and others," Fairfax said. "Our trade program boasts one of the best international and U.S. trade law curriculums in the country. And, WCL has many distinguished alums who are working and have worked at the Office of the United States Trade Representative, and we are grateful for the internship opportunities that USTR has provided our students and alums."

Ambassador Tai graciously speaks with inspired students during a post-reception.

The event concluded with a fireside chat-style conversation and Q&A session, where attendees had the opportunity to ask the Ambassador questions on trade policy and its impact on global economic growth. The discussion highlighted the importance of trade policy in promoting economic growth and development, while also protecting workers and the environment.

"Trade should work for the common good and help set responsible standards on labor, the environment and other priorities that reflect American values," the Ambassador said. "It should also promote fair and healthy cooperation that lifts up workers and communities, and that is the focus for IPEF."

Ambassador Katherine Tai chats with a student attendee.  

During the reception that followed, it was clear that event attendees were inspired by the Ambassador who remained to answer questions and share additional insights.

The lecture emphasized the importance of fair and sustainable trade policies in stimulating global economic growth, protecting workers and the environment, and building trust among different sectors of the economy.

"Trade policy cannot solve all of the wrongs in the world but it can help more people, both at home and abroad, share the benefits of increasing economic growth," Tai said. "It can help restore and build trust with different sectors of the economy – the women-owned businesses, the minority-owned small businesses, the youth, and students – so that their voices and priorities also help shape the tomorrow that they will live in."

See the full photo library here

~Story by  Keith Pierce. Photos by Keith Pierce and Hilary Schwab