U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai visited Skagit County on Thursday to talk about the importance of trade for producers of crops such as potatoes, berries, dairy and shellfish.

The visit was a rare opportunity for local leaders to meet with a member of the U.S. Cabinet and showcase Skagit County agriculture.

President Joe Biden nominated Tai to serve as the U.S. Trade Representative, and she was confirmed unanimously by the Senate on March 18. Her job includes negotiating and overseeing trade agreements with other countries.

On Thursday, Tai first stopped by the Washington State University Bread Lab to learn about the school’s work developing nutritious and flavorful grains more profitable for growers. She sampled breads and other products baked by Bread Lab students.

“I’m so extremely impressed by the diversity and savvy of the producers here, in terms of the way they see their goals in this community, in the world economy, and the pride they take in what they produce, and desire to share it across America and rest of the world,” Tai told the Skagit Valley Herald after her visit.

Tai’s second stop was for panel discussion at the Washington State University Skagit County Research & Extension Center. The 30-person panel included local agricultural representatives, farm groups, farmers, officials and tribal leaders. U.S. Reps. Suzan DelBene and Rick Larsen attended.

In opening remarks, Tai said she has been visiting communities throughout the country to learn about the importance of trade in various sectors.

“A large part of my job is also to ensure (trade) arrangements we’ve made and access we’ve been promised is actually delivered on,” she said.

Tai said the U.S. has taken steps to boost agricultural trade with Canada and Mexico, the top two trading partners of the U.S.

She said the U.S. recently brought a case against Canada over dairy quotas under the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement, with the goal to benefit U.S dairy exporters. She said she is also working to expand trade of U.S.-grown potatoes in Mexico.

Potatoes and dairy are two of the most valuable crops in Skagit County.

Tai spoke about the U.S. trade relationship with China, which has committed to purchase a certain amount of U.S. agricultural products.

“We have to find a way to coexist, but also push China for their delivery for commitments they have made in this trade agreement,” she said.

In an interview with reporters after the panel, Tai said agricultural producers expressed a desire “to have more confidence in our access to markets.”

Members of the press were not permitted to listen to the panel following Tai’s opening remarks.

In her remarks, Tai also emphasized the link between trade and infrastructure. She said infrastructure improvements will boost the economy and open up more trade opportunities.

“We need to be ensuring our trade policies and trade initiatives are linked to everything we are doing here at home,” she said.

Congress is currently negotiating a $1 trillion infrastructure bill proposed by Biden.

At the end of her visit, Tai told reporters visiting places such as Skagit County is crucial to her work.

“This is one of my favorite parts of this job, which is to come out to America and leave Washington, D.C., and connect with our stakeholders directly,” she said.

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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