UNITED STATES-OMAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT IMPLEMENTATION ACT -- (Senate - June 29, 2006)
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Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today to express my opposition to the Oman Free Trade Agreement implementing legislation before us. I am concerned about shortcomings in Oman's labor laws, in particular the lack of any provisions allowing workers to form independent unions or to bargain collectively. Also, Oman has no legal prohibitions of sweatshop labor.
Some have argued during today's debate that Oman has made improvements in their labor laws and are willing to make more. And it is true that recent labor law reforms in that country have moved the situation for workers from criminal to just terrible. But we should have learned from our experience with Jordan--a country with which we have a free-trade agreement, one that was justified by promised improvements in their labor laws. Just recently, the New York Times published an expose of the dreadful conditions in Jordan's sweatshops. What makes us think that Oman, with weaker labor standards than Jordan, will behave any better after they get their free-trade agreement? Congress needs to stand up for the workers in countries with which we trade before we reward them with unfettered access to our markets--and that means Congress must reject against trade agreements that do not demand strong labor laws and respect for fundamental workers' rights.
My ``no'' vote on the Oman Free Trade Agreement is also a vote against the way in which the Bush administration has handled trade negotiations. A year ago, Congress debated and ratified CAFTA. I voted against CAFTA because I could not see offering trade concessions to countries with labor standards so far below our own. I challenged this administration to negotiate trade agreements with countries that have strong labor laws. So far, they have not responded.
I also voted against CAFTA--and will vote against the Oman agreement today--in protest of a trade policy that is ignoring our rising trade deficit and the job drain that accompanies it. Instead of finding ways to pander to countries with deplorable human rights and worker protection records, the President and his trade negotiators ought to get tough with China and make them play by the rules. In the past 8 months, the President has met with President Hu of China twice. Each meeting was seen as an opportunity to begin to develop policies to respond to China's unfair trade practices, and each time this administration has been eerily silent.
In the meantime, our trade deficit has ballooned to $805 billion, and our trade deficit with China alone has risen to $201 billion. What is the President's plan? The U.S. Trade Representative wants to push through as many trade agreements as it can before fast-track Presidential trade negotiating authority expires in 2007. Peru, Columbia, United Arab Emirates, Thailand, and Korea are all in the queue. When is enough, enough? When will this administration focus on keeping jobs at home rather than handing out trade concessions abroad?
Workers in this country are looking to the President for leadership and answers on how we can keep jobs in the United States. Unfortunately, the Oman Free Trade Agreement offers neither. I urge my colleagues to reject the Oman Free Trade Agreement--and reject the misguided, disastrous trade policy it represents.