USTR deputy Bianchi to depart as top trade official for Asia

By David Lawder

WASHINGTON (Reuters) – The Biden administration’s top trade official for Asia, Sarah Bianchi, is stepping down as the U.S. Trade Representative’s office plots its next moves on trade talks with Indo-Pacific countries after failing to reach a deal in November, the White House confirmed on Thursday.

Bianchi, the deputy USTR overseeing Asia, Africa, investment, services, textiles and industrial competitiveness, is a longtime economic policy adviser to President Joe Biden, including during his time as vice president, when she ran his economic and domestic policy teams.

“Sarah Bianchi has been a trusted advisor to President Biden for the many years I have known her,” White House Chief of Staff Jeffrey Zients said in a statement. “As she moves on from this role as Deputy U.S. Trade Representative, all of us in the Biden orbit are grateful for her service once again.”

USTR is a part of the Executive Office of the President. A USTR spokesperson declined comment on the departure.

Bianchi was confirmed in the role by the U.S. Senate in September 2021 and has overseen trade discussions with China, Taiwan and member countries of Biden’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework.

Her departure follows that of another key deputy to USTR Katherine Tai, Jayme White, who led trade engagement with Latin America, Europe and the Middle East, in October.

In November, USTR negotiators pressed hard to complete trade negotiations on the Biden administration’s Indo-Pacific Economic Framework initiative, but failed to reach a deal in time for an Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation leaders summit, where Biden hoped to showcase IPEF as an alternative to deeper trade ties with China.

The negotiations failed after some countries, including Vietnam and Indonesia, declined to commit to U.S. demands for strong labor and environmental standards with binding enforcement provisions. The IPEF trade talks did not offer member countries lower tariffs or enhanced access to U.S. markets.

Bianchi told Reuters at the time that the IPEF member countries needed to “recalibrate” the talks in 2024, but acknowledged that this would be difficult in an election year.

(Reporting by David Lawder; Editing by Aurora Ellis and Dan Burns)