WASHINGTON — The Biden administration announced a number of personnel appointments on Monday for the Office of the United States Trade Representative with close ties to the progressive wing of the Democratic Party, in a signal that the new administration is likely to pursue what it calls a “worker focused” approach to trade.
Biden officials have said they want to seek a trade policy that benefits economically disadvantaged Americans. But it has remained unclear whether the administration would cater more to unions and the left wing of the party, which emphasize strong labor rights and trade rules that protect American workers, or to the moderate Democrats, who typically prefer lower trade barriers and a freer approach to trade.
The personnel appointments, which were first viewed by The New York Times, are one of the strongest signs yet that the Biden administration is seeking to take a different approach to trade policy than past Democratic administrations, which focused more on promoting American exports and geopolitical influence through striking trade deals. Mr. Biden, by contrast, has said he does not intend to begin negotiating new free-trade agreements until his administration has helped to subdue the coronavirus pandemic and made major investments in American industry and infrastructure.
Instead, his trade staff may focus more on ensuring that American trade rules are adequately enforced and that they promote rather than impede other parts of Mr. Biden’s agenda, including fighting climate change and encouraging domestic investment. The picks include several key staff members to congressional Democrats who helped to revise and pass the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement. That suggests that a major task in the coming months will be ensuring that the North American Free Trade Agreement’s successor, which raises labor standards and requires new unions at Mexican factories, is fully put in place and enforced.
The team will also have to decide what to do about the legacy of higher trade barriers and large tariffs on a variety of foreign products, including goods from China, left behind by President Donald J. Trump. Mr. Biden has said his administration is still reviewing the effects of those tariffs and other trade policies issued by Mr. Trump. But on Feb. 1, Mr. Biden reinstated tariffs on aluminum from the United Arab Emirates, a move that pleased unions but disappointed industries that have argued that the tariffs raise costs.
Several of the appointees worked closely with Katherine Tai, the Biden administration’s nominee for United States trade representative, on revising the new North American trade deal, which was negotiated by the Trump administration and replaced NAFTA last year.
That includes Nora Todd, a former adviser for Senator Sherrod Brown of Ohio, who will serve as chief of staff, and Greta Peisch, a former counsel to Senator Ron Wyden of Oregon, who has been appointed general counsel. Shantanu Tata, a former adviser to Representative Suzan DelBene of Washington, will serve as executive secretary and adviser, and Samuel Negatu, a former legislative director for Representative Jimmy Gomez of California, will serve as director of congressional affairs.
Other appointments include Sirat K. Attapit, who previously worked for Attorney General Xavier Becerra of California, as assistant U.S. trade representative for intergovernmental affairs, and Adam Hodge, a former Obama administration official, as assistant trade representative for media and public affairs. Jan Beukelman, a staff member for Senator Thomas R. Carper of Delaware, will serve as assistant U.S. trade representative for congressional affairs, while Jamila Thompson, who served on the staff of Representative John Lewis of Georgia, will be senior adviser.
The administration also named Brad Setser, an Obama administration Treasury official, as counselor to the U.S. trade representative. Mr. Setser has written extensively on the role of both currency and taxation in trade, suggesting that the new administration could take a more expansive view on changing tax and currency policy to boost American exports and benefit workers.
Mark Wu, a professor and vice dean at Harvard Law School with an extensive background in intellectual property, digital trade issues and China, was appointed as senior adviser to the U.S. trade representative. In the position, he could help the office create new trade rules to govern the digital economy and constrain trade practices from China that the United States deems unfair.