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China critic Katherine Tai was confirmed by the Senate as Biden’s US commerce consultant

Katherine C. Tai speaks ahead of Senate Finance Committee hearings to consider her appointment as Ambassador of the United States Commercial Agent on February 25, 2021 in Washington, DC.

Bill O’Leary | Pool | Reuters

Katherine Tai, a critic of China’s trade practices, was re-elected as chief trade official in the Biden government on Wednesday. The Senate vote was 98-0.

Tai, whose parents were born in mainland China, was the first Asian-American and the first black woman to serve as a U.S. trade agent since the position was founded nearly 60 years ago. It received unanimous support from an evenly divided Senate on Tuesday in a procedural vote that paved its way for confirmation.

Tai’s awaited confirmation comes as Biden’s White House attempts to move away from the Trump administration’s more bellicose tone in dealing with China while maintaining a tough US stance on the rival economic superpower.

Tai has criticized certain Chinese guidelines. In several cases between 2007 and 2014 she successfully argued with the US case against China’s trade practices before the World Trade Organization.

“There are also many areas that are gray areas where the rules are not clear or where we don’t have any rules yet,” Tai said last month. She also believes the US should work with other countries to counter China.

Tai will succeed Robert Lighthizer, who, as Trump’s top trade negotiator, imposed multiple tariffs on Chinese imports while negotiating the two nations’ first trade deal in January 2020.

When she testified before the Senate Finance Committee in February, Tai said she wanted China to stick to its first-stage commitments. It did not say whether it would use additional tariffs on China, but noted that “there are legitimate tools in the trade toolbox”.

– CNBC’s Thomas Franck contributed to this report.

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