Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai at the 2022 United Steelworkers Constitutional Convention

August 10, 2022

WASHINGTON – Today, Wednesday, August 10 at 1:00 PM ET/10:00 AM PT, United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai will deliver remarks at the 2022 United Steelworkers Constitutional Convention. During her speech, Ambassador Tai will highlight the record job growth and strong economic recovery since President Biden took office and detail how the Administration’s policies will create sustainable and inclusive growth by making historic investments in innovative technologies and American workers.

Ambassador Tai will also tout recent USTR-led actions that are raising labor standards at home and abroad in order to create a race to the top in global trade. Ambassador Tai's remarks will be livestreamed at

As Prepared for Delivery

Thank you, Tom, for that generous introduction.  I want to start by saying what a fearless and dedicated leader you all have in Tom.  He is a true champion for workers, and I am grateful for his leadership and friendship.

I also want to recognize International Vice President at Large Roxanne Brown for her hard work and tireless advocacy. 

And of course, to the Steelworkers here today from across North America, Australia, the United Kingdom, and beyond, and those watching around the world – thank you for your dedication and perseverance.

I know you heard from Secretary Walsh on Monday, and you’ll be hearing from Vice President Harris shortly, and I am honored to join you for this year’s Convention.

From day one of his administration, President Biden has been clear that trade must benefit workers.  It cannot continue to be a zero-sum game. 

That is why we are making sure that trade delivers real opportunities, to real people – whether that is by negotiating better rules for trade in steel with Europe, promoting high standards in the Indo-Pacific, or enforcing our rules for trade and worker standards with Mexico.

Last June, the late Rich Trumka invited me to give a speech on our worker-centered trade agenda at the AFL-CIO in Washington. 

I wanted to give that speech ahead of my first international trip to demonstrate this Administration’s belief that trade policy must have workers at its heart.

American workers are the backbone of our economy. 

Through the great depression and the dust bowl, through wars and conflicts, droughts and floods, the sweat and grit of union workers helped rebuild the economy and pulled this country through tough times. 

This is still true today. 

The economic recovery from the pandemic has not been easy.  But thanks to your tenacity and dedication, we are making real progress. 

President Biden understands the importance of union workers to America’s economic vitality. 

His economic plan is growing the economy from the bottom up and the middle out.  And in President Biden’s first year, we saw historic economic growth. 

Construction of new manufacturing facilities has increased by 116 percent.  Industrial production is at a record high. 

Since President Biden took office, we have added 642,000 manufacturing jobs. 

And just last week, we heard that 30,000 manufacturing jobs were created in July alone.  In fact, more manufacturing jobs were created in 2021 than in any year in nearly 30 years. 

The unemployment rate matches the lowest it’s been in more than 50 years, at 3.5%.  More people are working now than at any point in American history.

We have made real progress.  And we are going to make more.

The President is laser focused on lowering costs for American families, including reducing health care costs and utility bills. 

He is also helping our economy transition to steady and stable growth, by strengthening our supply chains, helping small businesses compete, and bringing good-paying manufacturing jobs back home.

Just look at the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. 

Previous presidents talked about “Infrastructure Week.”  President Biden worked with Republicans and Democrats to actually get it done. 

This is the largest investment in our nation’s infrastructure since the creation of the Interstate Highway System under the Eisenhower Administration. 

These projects will be made with our steel, iron, concrete, and asphalt.  As President Conway told Congress last month, this will add between 40 to 50 million tons of steel demand over the next five years.

The law is already creating good-paying, union jobs, and boosting manufacturing here in America. 

It is also helping fight climate change, advancing environmental justice, strengthening critical links in our supply chains, and ultimately lowering costs for working families. 

We’ve announced over $110 billion in all 50 states to rebuild roads and bridges, modernize ports and airports, replace lead pipes to deliver clean water, and expand high-speed internet. 

Here in Nevada, we will invest more than $690 million this year alone – including in the airport most of you flew into.

Yesterday, I was with President Biden when he signed the CHIPS Act into law. 

The pandemic exposed serious flaws in our supply chains, particularly our dependence on certain regions, like China, for essential materials. 

This law makes our country more resilient.  The chip shortage creates problems for all of us – longer waits to get dishwashers and cars. 

And they’re more expensive. 

This law will help fix those problems. 

And not only that, it will support construction of new factories at home, made with American steel.  We’ve seen some major announcements already.  Intel is building two factories in Ohio, and Micron and Qualcomm will spend billions of dollars to build factories and buy American-made semiconductors.

This shows you how the CHIPS Act will create good-paying jobs and increase our competitiveness.

These are two down payments on the President’s historic agenda; and let me mention two more that we’re going to fight for.

First, we need to get the Inflation Reduction Act on President Biden’s desk as soon as possible. 

He ran for office promising to make government work for working families again.  That is what this bill does.

It will create thousands of new jobs and help lower energy costs. 

It ensures that our green future is built by American workers, from the steel that builds the factories to the batteries that come out of them.

Second, we will keep fighting to invest in the future of our workforce. 

As you’ve told leaders in Washington for decades, we need to re-imagine Trade Adjustment Assistance as a comprehensive investment in our workforce, not just burial insurance. 

Our goal is to prepare America’s workers for the jobs that we are creating, whether it’s in the future of steel or wind turbines or semiconductors. 

The President will continue working to get it done.   

The same goes for trade. 

For too long, policies prioritized efficiency and neglected the needs of workers. 

President Biden and I believe that the status quo is not okay. 

We are committed to a trade policy that is crafted with workers, for workers. 

The President’s vision is an economy where, as he puts it, “everyone is cut in on the deal.” 

And with the partnership of you, the Steelworkers, we’re keeping that promise.

After years of offshoring and outsourcing, two years of the pandemic, and now Russia’s illegal, unprovoked invasion of Ukraine, it is clear that we need a new approach to our trade policy. 

Trade can be a force for good. 

From day one, I made it clear that we are not going to do business as usual. 

When you want to change the way things are done in trade, some will accuse you of “being against trade.”  And maybe – you’ve heard those accusations, too. 

But it’s not about what you’re against.  It’s about what you’re for.  We are for doing trade the right way.

And you are an important part of doing trade right. 

My job is to represent the economic interests of the United States around the world. 

The only way I can do that is to hear from you – to connect with American workers and communities. 

My first worker roundtable was last June.  It was hosted by Senator Sherrod Brown, over Zoom. 

Last summer, I visited Chicago and met with the Chicago Federation of Labor.  I met with Machinists in Washington State.  I met with autoworkers in Flint.

I am also making a point to meet with union leaders and workers during my foreign travel, letting our partners know that there is no more pitting our workers against one another.  

In our trade discussions with the European Union, we are emphasizing the importance of centering labor unions in trade policy. 

That’s why we plan to bring together organized labor, employers, and the U.S. and European governments to develop priorities for transatlantic trade. 

Worker-centered trade starts with workers at the table.  But it’s got to be more than that. 

We also need your substantive input.  And, most importantly, you need to see your impact on policy.

A great example of this is what we did with the USMCA – the deal that replaced the NAFTA.

I was proud to be part of the close collaboration between labor and congressional Democrats to make sure the re-negotiated agreement emerged as a better deal for workers and a new model for trade agreements. 

And I am even prouder to lead the Biden Administration’s efforts to fully utilize all the tools in the USMCA to deliver results for workers.

The USMCA’s Rapid Response Labor Mechanism allows the United States to take enforcement actions against factories that are not respecting freedom of association and collective bargaining rights. 

We’ve already used this tool successfully on several occasions.

For example, last May, we launched a case at a General Motors facility in Mexico.  As a result, workers chose a new, independent, and representative union.  And this May, those workers approved a new bargaining agreement, raising their wages and benefits.  

By the way, this action was the first time any government in the world had proactively brought a labor case under any trade agreement.

Last summer, I met with a group of union leaders in Mexico. 

One of the participants in that meeting was a woman who – along with her union brothers and sisters – had been fired from her job nearly a decade ago in an act of anti-union retaliation by her employer. 

Through the USMCA enforcement mechanism, we brought a case that got her and dozens of other union members reinstated with backpay. 

Not only that, the employer recognized their legitimacy, provided them with office space, and paid them the union dues they were owed going back years! 

But this isn’t just about Mexico. 

Our success in Mexico helps America’s workers.  Our trade tools are reducing the incentive for companies to outsource jobs. 

And we are just getting started. 

The cases are picking up.  Through this and other enforcement tools, we’re working hard to ensure that our trade policy helps workers in all countries exercise their rights and drive a race to the top.

Trade done right also means strength in numbers – getting our allies and partners to come along with us. 

President Biden was clear that the United States should not go it alone.

That approach is getting results. 

In my first year, we resolved a decades-old dispute on Boeing and Airbus subsidies.  We agreed with Europe to level the playing field for our workers, and to collaborate to address China’s unfair practices. 

Next, we got to work resolving the tensions with our allies over steel and aluminum – proving that we can preserve the future of our steel industry and American jobs, in partnership with others. 

Together, we’re moving ahead to create a global steel and aluminum market that rewards fair trade and promotes clean manufacturing and good jobs.

The USW has been a close partner at every step. 

Tom, Roxanne, and many others have helped us create a model that may well change the future of how the world looks at trade.

With your partnership, we are using all our tools – and inventing new ones – to defend American economic interests and American workers.

So, let me tell you about what we’re doing on China.

As President Biden often says, competition with China must be fair. 

For too long, China’s state-supported industrial policies undercut the prosperity of Americans, suppressed labor rights, and weakened environmental standards.

And this hurt our steel industry.  Twenty years ago, there were more than 100 U.S. steel companies.  We produced 100 million metric tons of steel every year, and the industry employed 136,000 people in communities across the country.

Soon after that, low-priced steel from China flooded the market. 

Plants started closing.  Hundreds of workers lost their jobs.  It devastated communities. 

Since 2000, employment in the steel industry has dropped 40 percent. 

This is a pattern we’ve seen across industries, including steel, solar panels, and more.

But this Administration is not afraid to stand up to China.  We are vigorously defending our values and economic interests by turning the page on the old playbook. 

We need to take a new, holistic, and pragmatic approach.

Years of dialogues and trade disputes have not led to meaningful reform. 

We’re not sitting around waiting for China to change. 

We’re engaging from a position of strength – by investing in American workers and infrastructure. 

And I am committed to using every tool at my disposal to hold China accountable.

We are not alone in this fight. 

We’re strengthening our alliances to put an end to policies that shipped our jobs overseas, shuttered our plants, and neglected the boundless potential of our workforce. 

This leads me to share with you what we’re doing to get our partners on board in the Indo-Pacific region.

President Biden launched the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework for Prosperity so that we can work for the common good and set responsible standards on labor, the environment, and other priorities that reflect American values. 

We need fair and healthy cooperation that lifts up workers and communities. 

Let me be clear—this is not the Trans-Pacific Partnership. 

We are learning lessons from TPP, and we are putting our worker-centered trade policy into action. 

Because of that, tariff elimination is not on the table. 

And we are prioritizing areas that benefit our workers throughout the Framework, including the commitments related to digital trade. 

Our trade policy cannot be a vehicle for undercutting workers’ rights and outsourcing jobs. 

The IPEF will also cover tax and anti-corruption. 

As President Biden said in May, “tax and trade belong in the same framework, because if companies aren’t paying their fair share, it’s harder for governments to pay for Trade Adjustment Assistance or to fund education or health services, or a range of public investments.”

A point of emphasis for me in the IPEF – one I have taken from the USMCA – is the importance of corporate accountability in our trade policy. 

We need to hold corporate actors accountable when they violate labor laws. 

Through the IPEF, we are promoting a race to the top. 

And we will do this together with partners in the region and here at home. 

This is an opportunity to set high standards and establish a path forward that supports the global competitiveness of American workers.

Because delivering for workers is our main priority.

I believe that together, we can get this right.  Let me repeat a story that President Biden told yesterday. 

During one of his meetings with Chinese President Xi Jinping, President Xi asked him, “How would you define America?” 

President Biden said, “Easy, it’s just one word: Possibility.”

Last year, this Administration brought European leaders to the Steelworkers’ hometown of Pittsburgh to discuss technology and new, emerging challenges in trade. 

Some people think that your industries are relics of the past. 

But look around you, look around this room today. 

You are the literal backbone of our nation’s construction projects. 

You also make possible the infrastructure, the tools, the inventions – all the things that enable our technological might. 

They are built by hands, by real people, real workers.  And many of you here today have the calluses to prove it. 

It’s clear that yours are the industries of the present, and will continue to be the engine to take us forward.

You are the foundation of American competitiveness, innovation, and ingenuity. 

You are critical to this “American Possibility.”  You are our strategic workforce.

Thank you.