What to expect from the Biden administration’s trade agenda

March 19, 2021
Ending the week with Katherine Tai’s historic confirmation as U.S. Trade Representative and what we can expect from the administration’s trade agenda, as well as what policymakers and federal health officials said this week about COVID-19 vaccines. We also meet the…
BIO

Ending the week with Katherine Tai’s historic confirmation as U.S. Trade Representative and what we can expect from the administration’s trade agenda, as well as what policymakers and federal health officials said this week about COVID-19 vaccines. We also meet the Japanese American researcher whose work led to the discovery of the polio vaccine. (975 words, 4 minutes, 52 seconds)

 

What to expect from the Biden administration’s trade agenda

 
 

In a rare instance of bipartisan agreement, new U.S. Trade Representative Ambassador Katherine Tai was approved 98-0 in the Senate Wednesday. Here’s what you need to know about her and the Biden administration’s trade policy agenda

A highly respected China expert and former chief trade counsel to House Ways & Means, Katherine Tai is the first Asian American and first woman of color to serve as U.S. Trade Representative. 

Read BIO's statement on the confirmation of Ambassador Tai.

BIO got behind Tai shortly after she was nominated, joining more than 100 food and agriculture trade organizations in signing a letter urging her confirmation. “We believe that Ms. Tai has the experience and expertise to secure greater market access for U.S. products and ensure enforcement of clear and fair rules with our trade partners,” the letter says. 

As she begins her role, Tai faces three major challenges, BIO’s EVP of International Affairs Joe Damond exclusively told us:

  1. Implementing the Biden administration’s worker-focused trade policy.
  2. Keeping China honest while improving the tone of dialogue. There has been essentially “zero implementation” of what China committed to in the trade agreement with the United States, said BIO VP for International Affairs Matt O’Mara.
  3. Focusing more on enforcing existing trade commitments, like the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA), rather than pursuing new agreements.

(She addressed many of these issues during her confirmation hearing.)

Tai should focus on “protecting and trying to advance sectors where the U.S. leads the world,” such as the biotechnology sector, added Damond. Many rising innovators in the biotechnology sector are small companies—and it’s because of their size that they need USTR to be their advocates for a level playing field on the world stage. 

Read more about what to expect from Biden’s USTR and agriculture policy agenda.

 
 
 
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Congress talks vaccine pricing, IP, hesitancy, and more

 
 

Federal health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci and CDC Director Rochelle Walensky testified before House and Senate Committees this week on the COVID-19 response. Here's what was said about vaccine pricing and IP protections, vaccine hesitancy and equitable distribution, and preparing for what’s next.

On vaccine pricing: Sen. Chris Murphy (D-NY) asked about government contracts for vaccines, inquiring about whether the government is getting the best price for various vaccines and some companies’ “no-profit” pledges. Noting he’s “no defender of the pharmaceutical industry, and certainly on pricing,” White House chief science officer Dr. David Kessler stressed that the government successfully procured vaccines “at risk,” which has put us “in a very fortunate position today.”  

On IP and the TRIPS agreement: Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-IL) said developing countries including India and South Africa requested the WTO waive the TRIPS agreement, to allow them to circumvent companies’ IP rights so as to manufacture their own vaccines. Dr. Fauci pointed to the U.S. joining COVAX and committing to sharing vaccine surpluses with other countries; neither Dr. Fauci nor Dr. Walensky voiced support for waiving the TRIPS agreement.

On equitable distribution and allocation: “COVID-19 has highlighted long-standing systemic health disparities, and health equity must be a corner stone of our public health work,” said CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. “CDC is committed to expanding evidence-based approaches to reduce disparities in COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

On vaccine hesitancy and misinformation: Dr. Walensky noted the importance of addressing vaccine confidence “at the local level,” with support from the American Rescue Plan. 

Questions about the COVID-19 vaccines? Visit www.COVIDVaccineFacts.org.  

On future vaccines for COVID-19 variants: Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) asked about steps FDA will take to expedite approval of vaccines for variants, similar to the way they expedite annual influenza vaccines (starting at the 52-minute mark). Dr. Peter Marks, Director of the FDA’s Center for Biologics Evaluation and Research (CBER), said we will likely need studies for the first few changes for variants, but studies that “look at the immune response,” not “clinical outcome studies.” Once they better understand “which pathogens go with which platforms,” the process will likely become more like the process for the flu vaccine.

Where can I watch the hearings?

 
 
 
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Ruby Hirose.jpg

Japanese American biologist and biochemist Dr. Ruby Hirose (1904-1960) overcame anti-Asian racism and violence to save countless lives with her groundbreaking research, which led to the development of the polio vaccine.

Dr. Hirose’s research led to a number of medical breakthroughs related to blood clotting, cancer, and allergies, as well as serums and antitoxins critical to the development of the polio vaccine.

Suffering from hay fever herself, she researched how to use pollen extracts to “desensitize” allergy sufferers. She also published a paper on the medicinal properties of goldenseal, a plant that’s used to treat skin and eye inflammation.

The first second-generation Japanese American to graduate from her high school in Washington State, she earned her Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees in pharmacology from the University of Washington and her Ph.D. from the University of Cincinnati. In 1942, her family members living on the West Coast spent two months in an internment camp for Japanese Americans; luckily, Ruby was living in Ohio at the time and able to continue her important work that has saved countless lives.

 
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President Biden’s Friday: The President and Vice President Harris will visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta. While in Atlanta, scene of a shooting this week that killed eight, including six women of Asian descent, they will meet with Georgia Asian American leaders.

What’s Happening on Capitol Hill: Yesterday, the Senate confirmed Xavier Becerra as Health and Human Services (HHS) secretary; read our recap of his confirmation hearing and BIO's statement on his confirmation. Meanwhile, congressional Democrats have two bills in the works on environmental justice, reports CBS News. Looking ahead to next week, on Tuesday, Senate HELP will hold a hearing entitled, “Why Does the U.S. Pay the Highest Prices in the World for Prescription Drugs?

 
 
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