I support honest trade, just as anyone who supports a growing and prosperous Oregon economy. Oregonians deserve a framework for trade that recognizes real problems and seeks real solutions.
For 20 years, I’ve heard strong criticisms about the weak NAFTA agreement, which I did not vote for. It’s been rightly criticized because it completely failed to provide enforceable environmental and labor protections, tacking them on as sidebar agreements like an afterthought. People wanted change. I’ve heard them and agree, and throughout my time in Congress, I have fought to strengthen trade agreements to answer their call.
It’s frustrating that Congress is just now providing instructions to the Administration on how and when it should negotiate trade agreements. This procedure, known as Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), or “fast track,” sets the direction, establishes the rules, and creates the framework for how the Administration should negotiate. In the absence of TPA, Congress has abdicated its responsibility to guide our negotiators. The steps taken yesterday to resolve this shortcoming should have happened years ago.
Nonetheless, the latest bill negotiated chiefly by Senator Wyden, is a dramatic improvement over the last fast track bill, which I voted against because it failed to build on the lessons learned from NAFTA. In contrast, the bill we will begin debating shortly is a dramatic improvement.
It includes a human rights negotiating objective for the very first time. Responding to demands for greater transparency, future trade agreements will be public for 60 days before the President signs them, and up to four months before Congress votes. If an agreement fails to meet the objectives designated by Congress, a simple majority in the Senate could stop the fast track procedure, allowing Congress to reassess and improve the package. The TPA bill goes further, expanding Trade Adjustment Assistance, including help for displaced service workers for the first time through the Health Care Tax Credit. It also includes a renewal of both the African Growth and Opportunity Act and the Generalized System of Preferences to help the desperately poor, as well as continued trade benefits for Haiti.
Among the 150 negotiating objectives are powerful new tools to advance Oregon interests and Oregon values. While I will look for opportunities to refine it further, the TPA legislation we have created is a solid point of departure. However, it does not contain everything I want, and I will continue to work to strengthen it.
While serving in Congress, I have voted both for and against trade agreements. For example, last time Congress considered a TPA bill I voted against it. With each agreement, I measure them against the same principles – is this package good for Oregonians; does it align with our values; will it be a net positive for labor and environmental standards abroad, even if we don’t get everything we want; and will it help Oregon’s small- and medium-sized businesses find new markets for their exports, creating more jobs for Oregonians?
I have always asked these questions, but reached different conclusions on each agreement because every trade package is different. The failure called NAFTA only focused on opening the gates for business interests, without any concern for the local markets, people and resources that would be trampled along the way. The U.S.-Peru trade agreement, however, helped a country that’s 70 percent Amazon rainforest put in place their first ever Ministry of the Environment and regulations for sustainable logging practices. The model of the former example is dead, and I didn’t blink when voting for the latter, just as I didn’t blink when voting against the Colombia trade agreement because it fell short on labor protections.
Done right, TPA can instill a model of trade that’s as much about helping Oregon as it is about putting in place fully enforceable labor and environmental protections across 40 percent of the global economy. Such change will not just happen because it’s the right thing to do. It will only occur by engaging in the process, rolling up our sleeves, and pushing for improvement. For months, that’s exactly what I’ve done. And in the weeks ahead, that’s exactly what I’ll continue to do.
The TPA train is leaving the station. Republicans control Congress. The president has already said he’ll sign just about any fast track bill that lands on his desk. We can watch it pass by, or we can chase it down and have a say. The Wyden-Hatch-Ryan bill will deliver unprecedented transparency in trade negotiations, ensure future trade deals break new ground to promote human rights, and mandate for open Internet, free speech and digital commerce by ensuring data can flow freely across borders.
But I’m going to fight for more, and at each step of the way I’ll take out the same measuring stick to assess where we are. Each member, regardless of whether they’ll ultimately support or oppose a trade package, has an obligation to try and make it better. That’s why I’ll be focusing on:
- Efforts to improve environmental provisions
By ensuring U.S. companies aren’t forced to play by a different and more costly set of rules abroad, we can bolster environmental protections and best practices, as well as U.S. exports.
This is the best opportunity the United States will have to put in place a set of rules capable of dismantling the black market trade – and related criminal and terrorist networks – in illegally sourced plants, wildlife and living marine resources.
- Efforts to increase enforcement of current and future agreements
This legislation creates an enforcement trust fund using some of the penalties paid to the United States by trade cheaters and manipulators abroad who have been caught, to more effectively enforce and implement our trade agreements.
- Efforts to further reduce trade barriers for Oregon’s unique outdoor recreation companies
Congress should not hesitate to refine our tariff code when small adjustments would improve innovative manufacturing and value for consumers, without impacting domestic producers.