U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai said Thursday that environmental protection is going to be a much bigger factor in U.S. trade policy under the Biden administration, saying that the U.S.-Mexico-Canada agreement didn't go far enough to address environmental concerns.

“The goal is to ensure that we and our trading partners are engaged in fair competition that does not suppress environmental protection,” Tai said in a presentation for an online seminar hosted by the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank. “The United States has been, and remains, the leader in rewriting trade rules so that they move us toward this model of fair competition.”

As the top trade lawyer for the House Ways and Means Committee, Tai helped Democratic lawmakers beef up environmental protection provisions in USMCA.

“And while I think the United States, Mexico, and Canada should be proud of USMCA’s progress, I know that the agreement does not go nearly far enough in addressing the economic costs of our environmental challenges through trade,” she said. “The most glaring omission is the failure to explicitly acknowledge climate change.”

It’s an omission that she suggested would not be made in the future.
“Going forward, trade has a role to play in discouraging the race to the bottom and incentivizing a race to the top,” she said. “We must conserve the resources we do have – and work with our trading partners to do the same – to both mitigate and adapt to climate pressures.”

Agricultural trade is key to any comprehensive free trade agreement, and Tai stressed her desire to work with the Agriculture Department so that the U.S. can set a global example for sustainable farming.

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Tai said that “climate-friendly and sustainable agricultural production is essential to meeting our climate and sustainability goals. Our farmers and ranchers can lead the world with innovative carbon conservation practices," she said.

Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack "has proposed ambitious ideas, including expanding the use of cover crops and making carbon capture a mainstream conservation practice. I am eager to work with him to help make these practices the new global standard," she said.