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Failed Trade Policy

Floor Speech

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Location: Washington, DC

FAILED TRADE POLICY

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Mr. LYNCH. Thank you very much. I thank the gentleman for yielding. I want to join the rest of the Members here tonight to say how proud we are of the fashion in which you have defended American workers and led this cause for all Americans.

I rise tonight to address the House on the matter of the pending trade agreements with Peru and Colombia and the general trade promotion authority.

There has been much talk over the past couple of weeks and all of us have heard it about the desire of our country to export democracy to the Middle East. I just have to say that I am a firm believer that you do not export democracy through the Defense Department, as has been suggested by this administration.

What we are talking about here in these trade agreements, this is how you export democracy. If you are going to do it at all, it is through trade agreements which give other workers in other countries a fair opportunity to have a decent standard of living, and it is really incumbent upon us through the Commerce Department and these trade agreements to make sure that at the same time we protect our own workers, we also give a fair chance at a decent living to those of our neighbors internationally.

Just like the job loss that has been described by Mr. Hare, Ms. Kaptur, Mr. Ellison, and Mr. Michaud, as the gentleman from Maine indicated, I worked at a General Motors plant in Framingham, Massachusetts, and I saw the impact in Massachusetts and in Framingham of those 2,300 workers getting laid off.

The same thing happened at the General Dynamics shipyard where I worked in Quincy, Massachusetts, and I saw the impact there, as well as the steel plants in the Midwest that I worked at which have also been closed down.

What really gets me is as an ironworker hearing the talk in Washington, especially this administration, they talk about job loss like they talk about the weather, like it is something beyond their control, like it is a natural disaster that they have nothing to do with, when in reality when you look at the policies this administration has put forward, it is a deliberate cause and effect. The reason we are losing jobs is because of the policies that we have adopted.

Just like so many other so-called free trade agreements, this Colombia and Peru trade agreement contain no meaningful language or effective labor and environmental standards for workers in those countries, nor does it provide adequate protections to our own workers.

Madam Speaker, these trade agreements are based on deeply flawed models of NAFTA and CAFTA. We continually repeat the same mistakes and offer the same problematic language in our trade agreements. Instead of enforceable labor provisions, these free trade agreements merely suggest that those nations that we deal with adopt and enforce their own labor laws. They offer no assurance that existing labor problems will be resolved, and they allow labor law to be weakened or eliminated in the future with no possibility of recourse for those workers.

From our experience, we understand that attaching nonbinding side letters is not enough; especially when you consider, as my colleagues mentioned tonight, the record of deplorable labor conditions in the two countries under consideration: Peru and Colombia. They are among the worst examples of labor laws and protections and enforcements in the world.

Peru, as my colleague from Maine has pointed out, the U.S. State Department documented the failure of Peru's own labor laws to comply with U.S. internationally recognized worker rights and ILO core labor standards. Our own State Department included violations of child labor laws with an estimated one-quarter of all Peruvian children between the ages of 6 and 17 employed.

The State Department also indicated Peru's noncompliance with minimum wage guidelines with roughly half of the workforce, about 50 percent of the workforce in Peru, earning the minimum wage or below. These conditions are a far cry from free trade.

Instead, American workers are being asked to compete with underpaid, exploited and child labor workforces. One would think with such deplorable conditions in Peru, that the U.S. would insert enforceable labor standards in the agreement. However, the labor protections are weak and nonbinding.

The same goes for Colombia, a country that is infamous for having the highest trade union assassinations in the world. Mr. Michaud pointed out that more than 2,000 labor activists have been murdered in Colombia since 1990.

Until the Colombian government takes action to change this volatile situation, the United States should not offer any enhanced trade agreements with Colombia.

We also must consider the national security implications of these agreements. Both Peru and Colombia harbor terrorist organizations with heavy involvement in narcotrafficking. While both countries have established financial intelligence units for analyzing and disseminating financial information connected with anti-terrorist financing regimes, greater cooperation from the Peruvian and Colombian government is crucial in undermining the funding mechanisms for these organizations. This crucial issue of national security cannot be overlooked when we consider these trade agreements.

Madam Speaker, while sanctions and serious remedies are granted to the commercial trade and investment provisions of these free trade agreements, the labor, environmental and international security standards are completely ineffectual.

There is no quick fix that can make trade agreements with these countries work for Colombian and Peruvian workers.

To truly strengthen the trade agreements, Congress must also strengthen its negotiating mechanism. Not only are free trade agreements flawed trade models, it is paired with a flawed blueprint for negotiation, and that is the trade promotion authority. Congress needs a new procedure for trade negotiations because we are being held responsible for the damage all over the world. Under the TPA, Congress cedes its ability to control the content of these U.S. trade pacts. Yet we are stuck time and time again with the political liability for the damage that these trade pacts cause.

This damage falls mainly to the American middle class, but also the Peruvian and Colombian agreements are replicating the same model of NAFTA and CAFTA that have been disastrous for the U.S. economy. Since NAFTA, over 1 million jobs have been lost nationwide, with over 23,000 jobs lost in my State of Massachusetts alone. This has reduced wage payments to U.S. workers by $7.6 billion for just 2004. The administration's trade agreement model is killing the American middle class, plain and simple.

Not only has NAFTA been harmful for American workers in Mexico, it displaced 1.7 million campesinos and forced them towards overcrowded cities and to enter the U.S. illegally. Yet the administration has evidently not learned from NAFTA's mistakes. Instead, the administration insisted on zeroing out corn, rice and bean tariffs, even in the face of warnings from the Peruvian and Colombian governments. Such measures will expand the NAFTA disaster to Peru and Colombia.

In their current form, the Peru and Colombian trade agreements will only export more economic hardship rather than democracy for foreign workers.

So I urge my colleagues and I urge everyone to reject the Peru and Colombian trade agreements until the rights of labor and the environmental issues are contained in these agreements. They should be rejected.

I believe in the potential of free trade, like my colleagues Mr. Hare and Ms. Kaptur and Mr. Michaud, but along with power, as the major world power, we have a responsibility to use that power in a way that softens the impact of globalization on our own American workers, as well as the workers from Peru and Colombia.

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