Washington, D.C. -- In testimony at the Senate Finance Committee’s hearing on “Advancing Congress’s Trade Agenda: the Role of Trade Negotiating Authority,” Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America called for a strong and enforceable role for Congress in setting trade policy and priorities.
Last week, legislation calling for “fast track” authorization of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements was introduced.
“Trade agreements are no longer just about tariffs and quotas. They are about the food we eat, the air we breathe, the jobs we hold. We cannot abdicate this process to non-elected representatives. We cannot let foreign policy objectives trump domestic concerns and in the process unravel our own democracy instead of strengthening others,” Cohen said.
“Nor should we abdicate the decision to determine with whom the U.S. should negotiate. Vietnam is a 90 million person nation that is a party to the TPP negotiations. The minimum wage in Vietnam is 28 cents an hour, and the average hourly wage is 75 cents. Vietnam’s is a record of non-existent workers’ rights and an extensive roster of human rights violations, including the documented use of child labor,” he said.
Cohen was the only witness testifying in opposition to “fast track” authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals. He addressed the issues that a broad coalition of unions, environmental organizations, consumer groups, fair trade advocates and others have joined to work for trade policies that benefit everyone.
“We recognize the reality that we are living in a global economy. Trade policy, done correctly, is a win for the U.S. economy and U.S. workers.
“It is critical that we work to stop the global race to the bottom that has been the result of old-style trade agreements. As a nation, we strive to improve our standard of living and provide a better life for our children and grandchildren. We should not compromise on these values and reduce the quality of life for Americans through our trade policies.” Cohen said.
Congress should establish these priorities for fast track legislation, Cohen said.
1. Document that any new trade deal is not likely to add to the nearly $1 trillion in annual trade deficit in goods. This deficit has increased by five times since we adopted NAFTA.
2. Document the net effect on employment, don’t look only at increases in exports. Each trade deal comes with the promise of job growth, yet the overall impact has been job loss, due to a wave of imports and offshoring.
3. Document the effect on pay and workers’ standard of living. Since NAFTA was negotiated, U.S. wages have stagnated and workers’ weekly take home pay is $100 less than 40 years ago.
4. Ensure that consumer protection regulations by federal, state and local governments are not diminished.
5. Ensure that all trading partners comply with ILO principles and convention. The U.S. has ratified just two of those eight principles that cover workers’ rights, child labor and freedom of association.
6. Ensure that environmental standards are not degraded and are enforceable.
7. Ensure that these social goals are enforceable at least at the same level as all other sections, like patents, investment protection and intellectual property rights.
8. Ensure that Congress plays a meaningful role in setting priorities and limits the authority the U.S. Trade Representative to negotiate on basic governance and human rights.
Read the full testimony here.
Read the executive summary here.