Joe Biden has been sworn in as the 46th president of the United States, bringing hope for a more diplomatic and predictable environment for one of the world’s most powerful trading nations.

President Biden takes the reins of a country in turmoil because of the pandemic – the US has recorded more than 400,000 deaths due to Covid-19 – and an historic and polarising election, the result of which led to Trump supporters storming the US Capitol in a violent act of protest to overturn his defeat.

Five people died during the riot and, days after the attack, Trump was impeached for “incitement of insurrection” – his second impeachment during his term.

Biden and vice-president Kamala Harris now face the tough task of uniting a bitterly divided country.

When it comes to US trade, the country’s key trading partners will likely welcome a more co-operative business environment, and potentially a more predictable approach to economic measures such as sanctions.


Cabinet picks for trade

With his cabinet picks now ready to assume office – once all have been confirmed by the Senate – we take a look at the men and women who have been put in charge of the US’ trade agenda.


US trade representative (USTR) – Katherine Tai

Replaces? Robert Lighthizer

The USTR is the most important role when it comes to advising and developing US trade, commodity and direct investment policy, as well as overseeing trade negotiations with other countries.

Tai currently serves as the chief trade counsel for the House Committee on Ways and Means, having previously been chief counsel for China enforcement at the Office of the USTR during the Barack Obama administration.

With her previous experience of working on enforcement issues relating to China – the US’ ultimate trade rival and one that Donald Trump vowed to be “tough” on during his term – Tai will lead the country’s trade negotiations and disputes with the Asian superpower.

Biden will be making additional high-level trade nominations to this team, including the appointment of an ambassador to the World Trade Organization (WTO), who will also serve as deputy USTR.


Secretary of state – Antony Blinken

Replaces? Mike Pompeo

The secretary of state is the president’s chief foreign affairs advisor, tasked with directing US foreign policy, administering diplomatic missions and negotiating international treaties and agreements.

Blinken is a popular choice to lead the department, having served as deputy national security advisor and deputy secretary of state under Obama. Before that, during the Bill Clinton administration, Blinken worked in the state department and in senior positions on the National Security Council staff.

Despite his reputation as an internationalist, during his Senate confirmation hearing on January 20, Blinken said that he believes that Trump was right in taking a tougher approach to China. “I disagree very much with the way that he went about it in a number of areas, but the basic principle was the right one, and I think that’s actually helpful to our foreign policy.”


Secretary of the treasury – Janet Yellen

Replaces? Steven Mnuchin

If confirmed, Yellen will be tasked with acting as the principal advisor to the president and the cabinet on economic issues and the financial system.

Yellen is an economist by trade and was the chair of the Federal Reserve Board of Governors from 2014-18. She was also chair of the White House Council of Economic Advisers during the Clinton administration.

At her confirmation hearing yesterday, Yellen said that the US needs to “act big” to avert long-term economic issues because of the pandemic. “We have to rebuild our economy so that it creates more prosperity for more people and ensures that American workers can compete in an increasingly competitive global economy.”

Her remarks reflect the US’ stance that the global trading environment is not fair. The Export-Import Bank of the United States (US Exim) set up a programme on China to level the business playing field as it believes that Beijing aggressively supports its exporters, for example.


Secretary of commerce – Gina Raimondo

Replaces? Wilbur Ross

Raimondo has been nominated for this role, which advises on commerce policy to promote job creation and economic growth by ensuring fair and reciprocal trade, while also providing the data necessary to support commerce.

Currently serving her second term as the governor of Rhode Island, Raimondo has also previously held the role of treasurer for the state.

Her confirmation hearing is scheduled for January 26.


Secretary of defense – Lloyd Austin

Replaces? Christopher Miller was acting secretary of defense, following the firing of Mark Esper in November.

The secretary of defense is the chief defence policy advisor to the president, tasked with providing the military forces needed to deter war and protect the security of the US.

Austin is a retired army general and the former commander of the US military effort in Iraq. “The safety and security of our democracy demands competent civilian control of our armed forces, the subordination of military power to the civil,” he said during his Senate confirmation hearing.

During the Trump administration, national security was used as a reason to impose economic sanctions on certain entities. Chinese company Huawei was cut off from the US market after intelligence officials claimed the company could be used by the Chinese government for spying, presenting an acute security risk as the US develops its 5G infrastructure.

Elsewhere, the US imposed hefty economic sanctions on Iran in an attempt to curb malign activities and reduce the Middle Eastern state’s threat to the US.