Remarks by Ambassador Katherine Tai at the 2023 Cities Summit of the Americas

DENVER – United States Trade Representative Katherine Tai today delivered remarks at the 2023 Cities Summit of the Americas in Denver, Colorado.

In her remarks, Ambassador Tai highlighted the Biden-Harris Administration’s work to use trade to tackle the climate crisis, protect the environment, and empower workers around the world. Ambassador Tai also underscored the importance of working with local governments and our partners and allies around the world to address shared challenges like climate change. 

Ambassador Tai’s remarks as prepared for delivery are below: 

Thank you, Karen, for that introduction.  It’s a pleasure to join you in this great venue and this great city.  And I extend my welcome and gratitude to our distinguished guests and panelists from near and far.

I also want to thank our hosts, the OECD and the IDB, for organizing this event and for inviting me to speak.  I also want to congratulate them on all their work to advance good governance and economic development in our region.

This week’s Summit demonstrates the importance of local leadership to implementing big ideas that have a real impact on peoples’ lives throughout the Americas.

Last June, President Biden hosted leaders from across the Hemisphere for the Summit of the Americas in Los Angeles.  

And at that Summit, our leaders adopted several important commitments on shared values—including democracy and sustainable growth, protection of the environment, and healthy cities for our people to live and work in.

These themes are central to my work as the U.S. Trade Representative.

Two years ago, on April 15, I delivered my first speech in my current role—on the topic of trade policy, the environment, and climate change.

Much has changed since then.  

We have new geopolitical challenges, including Russia’s brutal, unjustified attack on Ukraine.  And we’ve seen how Russia’s invasion has made global supply chains fragile for important products and inputs.

But one thing that remains constant is the Biden Administration’s commitment to tackle the climate crisis, and our resolve to do so together.

In that 2021 speech, I underscored how this Administration would take a “whole-of-government” approach to address this challenge—and that we would re-engage with our partners around the world from a position of strength.

And that’s exactly what we have been doing.

Like other economies in the Americas, the United States is investing in our people and our environment to support the kind of future envisioned at last summer’s Summit in Los Angeles.

Last year, President Biden signed the Inflation Reduction Act into law—the largest investment in American history to address the climate crisis.  

It will incentivize the manufacturing of clean energy technology.  It will also create good-paying jobs—in wind, solar, and electric vehicle manufacturing.  And it will fortify and diversify the critical supply chains for clean energy products.

We’re already seeing historic investments all around the United States.  

Since President Biden took office, the private sector has committed more than $120 billion into the American made EV and battery supply chain.  

The President is also taking significant steps to support developing countries in taking stronger climate action—including providing $1 billion to the Green Climate Fund to finance clean energy projects. 

We are leading the clean transportation future and creating good-paying, union jobs while doing it.  

And trade is also part of our approach.

President Biden has been clear that the United States is back on the world stage as a committed and genuine partner, and this is especially important to tackling the climate crisis—because a collective challenge requires a collective solution.

So, from day one, my USTR team and I have been deepening our engagement with our partners and allies.  We are creating new tools and revamping old ones to deliver tangible results to safeguard our planet and create opportunities for our people.

For example, in the Indo-Pacific, we are negotiating a groundbreaking trade initiative with thirteen other countries in the region.  

The Indo-Pacific Economic Framework, or the IPEF, is not just any traditional trade deal—it is our vision for how countries can collaborate some of the most pressing issues, including on climate change.

The United States has put forward an ambitious set of environment provisions, and we are seeking commitments that meaningfully contribute to environmental protection and respond to current sustainability challenges, including climate change.

Through the IPEF, we are also discussing more traditional environment commitments around issues like natural resource conservation and combatting trade in illegally harvested wild fauna and flora.

Our cooperation also extends to the European Union.

We’ve had our disagreements on several trade matters.  But we got to work and resolved them to focus on our shared goals and priorities.  

That includes negotiations for the world’s first carbon-based sectoral arrangement for steel and aluminum trade that will incentivize decarbonization and defend key industries and jobs.

We also launched a new initiative under the Trade and Technology Council to further our cooperation on trade and environmental sustainability.

In my 2021 speech, I highlighted the importance of the negotiations at the World Trade Organization to address harmful fisheries subsidies.  

We are dependent on fisheries—for food, for livelihoods, for preserving the marine environment for future generations.  Harmful subsidies in this sector put all of that at risk, and also create a competitive disadvantage for those who do follow the rules.

And in 2023, I’m proud to say that, not only did all 164 WTO Members agree to an Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies last June, but the United States was one of the first to formally accept it.
There was a lot of skepticism that WTO Members would be able to deliver any outcomes during MC12, but through U.S. leadership, we finally achieved this groundbreaking Agreement.

This Agreement is the first ever multilateral trade agreement with environmental sustainability at its core.  It prohibits subsidies for those engaged in illegal, unreported, unregulated fishing; for fishing overfished stocks; and for fishing on the unregulated high seas.

It also includes robust transparency provisions regarding the fisheries subsidies and practices of WTO Members.

We know that there is more to be done.  

We need to bring the Agreement into force quickly, and we want to build on it and add disciplines that will improve the lives of fishers and workers everywhere, including on the use of forced labor on fishing vessels.

There are other ongoing discussions at the WTO focused on trade and environment issues, including the informal dialogue known as the Trade and Environmental Sustainability Structured Discussions.

These have been incredibly valuable to add energy and focus to the discussions, and the United States will continue to lead and contribute at all levels to ensure that the WTO is responsive and relevant to today’s challenges.

I want to also tell you about something that we’ve been focusing on with Vietnam—and that’s forests and the timber trade.

We concluded a bilateral agreement on illegal logging and timber trade with Vietnam, in October 2021.

It includes commitments that will help keep illegally harvested or traded timber out of the supply chain and protect the environment and forest ecosystems.  And we established a working group to better coordinate between our countries, and we’ve been meeting regularly.  

This agreement with Vietnam can serve as a model for other timber-producing countries, and this work is critical—because illegally harvested timber not only harms the environment but also disadvantages those who use lawful and sustainable means to make their goods.

This is at the heart of everything we’re doing on trade—empowering workers.  Because workers and the communities they support are the engine of our nations.

But for too long, workers were largely excluded from the benefits of increased trade.

That’s why we are writing a new story on trade—one that builds our economy from the bottom up and the middle out, puts workers at the center, and drives a race to the top.  For our environment and our people.

We are aggressively enforcing labor provisions in trade agreements to help eliminate incentives to ship jobs overseas.  And we are collaborating with like-minded countries to create an ecosystem that rewards clean trade and clean jobs.  

That includes our new trade initiative in our own hemisphere, the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity.  

We launched this Partnership with eleven other countries because all of us—especially mayors and community leaders at the local level—have seen first hand the unequal effects of traditional trade deals.

We already have strong economic relationships and free trade agreements with many of these countries, but we are all seeking something more—something that will deliver real results for our communities, advance democratic values, and promote environmental sustainability.

This is important because the green transition is having a real impact on peoples’ lives.  

That’s why I’ve made it a priority to hear directly from our workers, small businesses, and communities—to incorporate their voices and priorities into our policies.  We all should have a say in the future we will live in.

This is truly a team effort—no one government or organization or company will get us to the other side.  

There is incredible potential in the green economy—but it will only be our strength if we empower and lift up the people who will light up that economy.  No one should be invisible; no one should be left behind.  We’re in this—together.

I learned that there is a step on the Denver State Capitol Building that is exactly 5,280 feet above sea level—one mile high. 

So, here in Denver, because the air is thinner, baseballs travel farther—about 10 percent farther in Coors Field than other Major League ball parks.

I don’t know what that says about the Rockies, but I do know that the tomorrow we want to write together will travel farther—and will be better—because of events like this.

The great Colorado poet David Mason wrote, “To know the fragile blooms with breathing color is to be reborn . . . happier than before.”

Sometimes, individual blooms may seem fragile, unable to withstand the heat or the downpour.  But collectively, we are resilient—we can bloom together for the betterment of our planet and our people, not just for today, but for generations to come.

I look forward to working closely with many of you in the months ahead, and thank you for your time.