Senators rebuke U.S. trade chief over lack of consultation By Reuters

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© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai testifies before a Senate Finance Committee hearing on President Biden’s trade policy agenda on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., March 31, 2022. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – A contingent of six U.S. senators led by Democrats on Tuesday chastised U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai about her handling of negotiations on COVID-19 vaccine intellectual property rights, saying she had failed to consult them.

The members of the Senate Finance Committee, including Chairman Ron Wyden and two other of Tai’s fellow Democrats, said in a letter she had not complied with requirements to inform and consult them.

The United States, the European Union, India and South Africa reached a compromise on May 3 that could lead to a broader World Trade Organization deal on intellectual property rights on COVID-19 vaccines aimed at increasing vaccine production in developing countries. The proposal is now being discussed among the WTO’s 164 member countries.

“USTR’s announcement of the outcome preceded its informing Congress of the specifics of the compromise or sharing text of the proposal,” the senators wrote.

The group said it wanted to make sure the administration of Democratic President Joe Biden did not similarly fail to consult Congress about other trade negotiations such as at the WTO or bilateral talks with Britain.

A spokesperson for USTR did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

The senators, who also included Democrats Robert Menendez of New Jersey and Catherine Cortez Masto of Nevada and Republicans Mike Crapo of Idaho, Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Ben Sasse of Nebraska, said that regardless of whether negotiations lead to changes in U.S. law, USTR has an obligation to engage in “meaningful” consultations with Congress on specific proposals.

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