In response to the Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) legislation introduced in Congress on January 9th, Larry Cohen, president of the Communications Workers of America, testified before the Senate Finance Committee this week calling for a stronger, more enforceable role for Congress in setting trade policy and priorities.
As it stands, the legislation calls for “fast track” authorization of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade agreements. But Cohen said it goes deeper than that.
“We cannot abdicate this process to non-elected representatives,” he 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.”
Cohen was the only witness testifying in opposition to “fast track” authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership and other trade deals. He addressed the fact that a 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,” he added. “Trade policy, done correctly, is a win for the U.S. economy and U.S. workers. But it is critical that we work to stop the global race to the bottom that has been the result of old-style trade agreements.”
He recommended the following priorities for fast track legislation:
1. Document that any new trade deal is not likely to add to the nearly $1 trillion in annual trade deficit in goods. He noted that the deficit has increased by five times since NAFTA was adopted.
2. Document the net effect on employment to ensure job growth, don’t just look at increases in exports.
3. Document the effect on pay and workers’ standard of living. Since NAFTA was negotiated, he said, U.S. 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 International Labor Organization (ILO) principles and convention. He pointed out that the U.S. has ratified only two of the eight principles covering 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 of the U.S. Trade Representative to negotiate on basic governance and human rights.