“Katherine Tai is an excellent choice for USTR and the right person for the moment,” Willems, who’s now partner at law firm Akin Gump Strauss Hauer & Feld, told CNBC in an email.
Tai, a Mandarin speaker and expert on China, played a key role as chief trade counsel on the House Ways and Means Committee in pushing for stronger labor and environmental provisions in the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA).
Despite her affiliation with the Democrats, Tai is receiving “strong bipartisan support,” said Willems. He pointed out that Republican Sen. Rob Portman had endorsed Tai’s nomination.
“Folks like me who worked in the Trump Administration have a ton of respect for her and think she will help carry on a tough line on China,” he added.
Willems had served under President Donald Trump as deputy assistant to the president for international economics and deputy director of the National Economic Council until April last year. Before joining the White House in 2017, Willems worked at the office of USTR where he and Tai handled some of the disputes with China and negotiations with Europe.