John Kerry: We Need a New, Common-Sense Approach to Trade
Kerry Amendment Would Give Teeth to Existing Labor Standards
Below is a statement by Senator John Kerry from the Senate Finance Committee's mark-up this morning of the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
"An Administration's job is to make sure that open markets and robust trade benefit America's workers, consumers, corporations and ultimately our security. This Administration has broken that tradition by negotiating trade deals out of step with the globalized world in which we're living and by refusing to enforce the trade agreements we already have. "The evidence is clear in what's happening in our manufacturing sector and increasingly our service sector. No small part of that impact is very real hardship for working families. I have listened and learned, and I believe that our trade agreements can and must do a better job protecting American workers and our competitive edge. That's why the Jordan free trade agreement was such an important step forward, and that's why CAFTA fails the new test for trade in a globalized world.
"CAFTA includes two sets of provisions relating to workers: First, it requires that nations uphold their own labor laws, but it makes no stipulation as to what those laws require and includes only token enforcement provisions. Second, it calls on countries to 'strive to' achieve the most basic standards, like the 'elimination of the worst forms of child labor,' but includes absolutely no provisions to enforce these negligible standards. This means that a U.S. worker might well lose his or her job to a facility operating at conditions far, far below what anyone would deem acceptable in the modern economy.
"By contrast, CAFTA provides an elaborate and thorough process of very specific rules, investigation, dispute, appeal and punishment to protect American corporations' economic rights and interests, like intellectual property rights - as it should. The fundamental question is why does CAFTA not provide the same protection for American workers' economic rights and interests? There can be no doubt that CAFTA creates a horribly unfair double-standard that punishes American workers. Citizens do not have the same standing to end child labor or sweatshop conditions that corporations have to end copyright and patent theft - in fact, workers have no standing. Is the Administration really prepared to argue that in a globalized world a corporation's copyright is more important than a worker's guarantee to a safe workplace? "Today, I will offer two amendments that offer a clear alternative for Senators who believe in free trade and the American worker. The first gives true enforcement power to CAFTA's existing worker protections and the second ensures that all future trade agreements will include similarly enforceable worker protections.
"There's a reason CAFTA is in trouble. There's a reason why so many long time trade supporters oppose it today. It's a bad agreement. The Bush administration should reopen negotiations on CAFTA. It's well worth making progress that, in the end, will protect American companies and workers and set the right standard for free trade."