Smith Disappointed in USTR Rejection of China Labor Petition
Representative Chris Smith (R-NJ), Chairman of the House International Relations Subcommittee on Africa, Global Human Rights and International Operations, today expressed disappointment in the decision of the Office of the United States Trade Representative (USTR) to reject the recent petition to investigate the plight of workers in China. Smith and Benjamin Cardin (D-MD) were the two members of Congress to join the AFL-CIO in its filing of a Section 301 petition with the USTR supporting worker's rights in China.
"I am deeply disappointed in this decision. The evidence of worker exploitation in China is overwhelming. It was my hope that the USTR would have seized this petition as a chance to correct a flawed trade policy that continues to lead to worker exploitation in China and has resulted in over 1.3 million jobs lost here at home," said Smith.
The petition was filed under Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 and called for the USTR to investigate China for a "persistent pattern of conduct" that denies basic international labor standards for workers. USTR rejected a similar Section 301 request in 2004.
"We must support international trade with principle. Chinese workers are being exploited in the cruelest of fashions and the wave of repression has increased, not decreased," Smith said.
As recent as this morning, Smith and his colleague Frank LoBiondo (R-NJ) had reached out to USTR Ambassador Susan C. Schwab one last time urging her to meet with concerned Members of Congress, which could include the 11 Senators and 29 Members of the House of Representatives who had already sent a separate letter to USTR in support of the Smith-Cardin-AFL-CIO petition after it was filed.
Smith said, "We had hoped the USTR would not make a decision without meeting directly with those who represent U.S. workers impacted by China's horrific policies."
Smith said China's appalling labor policies result in fewer jobs for American workers, and they also amount to blatant violations of basic human rights for the Chinese people.
"Workers in China have no rights and no collective bargaining, and they are not afforded a living wage. In the years since the massacre at Tiananmen Square in 1989 the noose has tightened, not loosened, in the area of workers rights. This is all the more reason why we should being holding the Chinese government accountable for these abuses," said Smith.
Section 301 of the Trade Act of 1974 (as amended) gives the President of the United States the ability to impose trade sanctions against countries that obstruct U.S. commerce by violating trade agreements or engaging in "unreasonable trade practices." Unreasonable trade practices are defined as a country's failure to enforce "internationally recognized worker rights." Such rights include:
* Workers' freedom of association
* Rights of organizing and collective bargaining
* Freedom from forced or compulsory labor
* Freedom from child labor
* Standards of minimum wage, maximum hours, and occupational safety and health
"It is clear that the Chinese government has not made a real effort to address basic labor rights. Workers in China continue to have no voice, which is why we need to speak out for them," said Smith.