U.S. TRADE AGREEMENTS -- (House of Representatives - May 22, 2007)
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Mr. KIND. If the gentleman will yield, I am very, very glad my colleagues here tonight are taking time to try to explain what all the news has been about the last couple of weeks, and this is a very important template of trade that has been reached with the Democratic leadership here in Congress, with the Bush administration.
Let me congratulate both of you for the leadership you have shown on the Ways and Means Committee on this issue and so many other economic issues that affect all of our constituents across the country.
I also want to commend Chairman Rangel, the chairman of the Ways and Means Committee; and SANDY LEVIN, who is the chair of the Trade Subcommittee; and Speaker Pelosi for the negotiation and hard work that they put into this template of how we move forward on trade agreements in this country.
For the first time I believe that the values of this Nation are finally starting to be recognized and reflected as a basis of these trade agreements; the attempt to try to elevate standards upwards, rather than having a race to the bottom when it comes to trade relations, because so many of our constituents have felt for some time, and we have heard it in our own congressional district, that the trade agreements really don't speak to their needs, that they are competing on an uneven playing field in relation to the rest of the world.
That is really what this agreement was about, was trying to level the playing field, to try to elevate standards globally, not only influencing and recognizing the needs of our workers here in America, but trying to influence and recognize the needs of workers throughout the rest of the world by having basic principles as part of the trade agreement, core international labor standards as part of these trade agreements as we move forward, environmental protections, all on an even par of enforcement with other important provisions that are part of the trade agreement.
But let me also admit the sheer political fact, and that is there is very little political upside in supporting trade in Congress these days because it is so unpopular back home. I think because of that, because of the growth of globalization and the interrelationship that we have now in the world economy, very few workers feel that there has been a real upside to them.
That is what we are trying to accomplish in this trade agreement is a recognition that they, too, have a place at the table when this comes to trade; that they do have rights that need to be protected and assured; that we should be a Nation that stands up in opposition to the exploitation of child labor or slave labor; that other workers around the world, as they do in the United States, have the right to collectively bargain so they have better leverage in negotiating decent, fair working conditions and compensation for themselves and their families, wherever they may be living in this planet.
But, to me, trade has been more than just goods and products and services crossing borders, although that is what most people think about as trade. Trade is also an important tool in our diplomatic arsenal. It is also about how we, the United States, chooses to engage the rest of the world, whether it is a negative engagement or a positive engagement.
Nothing could be more positive than having a healthy trade relationship with rules in place that everyone has to live by. I happen to believe something that Cordell Hull, who was FDR's Secretary of State, said many, many years ago, and that is when goods and products cross borders, armies don't. There is so much conflict, and there are so many rivalries, and there is so much violence in this world today that trade, if used right, with the right rules of engagement, can be a positive experience not only for our own economic needs here in the United States, but also abroad. To me, that is what this agreement really speaks to is incorporating these types of values now as we move forward.
We have got a few trade agreements that we are trying to work on; Panama and Peru, for instance. Colombia and South Korea may need some more work in talking to a lot of our colleagues, but at least we are establishing what those rules need to look like. Now we can get down and haggle out the details as we do move forward.
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Mr. KIND. We had a very important caucus meeting earlier today, the Democratic Caucus, talking about the provisions of this trade agreement.
What I heard in that caucus, and I am not going to speak on behalf of those who spoke, but there was a lot of pent-up frustration. For the last 6 years with one-party control, our ideas, thoughts and values were excluded in terms of the template of trade agreements and what was in these bilateral regional trade agreements coming before Congress.
But also, as you just recognized, there is a big concern about the lack of enforcement of existing trade agreements and the likelihood of enforcement being done by this current administration in future trade agreements when they come before Congress asking for our ratification. That is a legitimate concern, a concern that I hear back home from a lot of my constituents as well.
Unless the administration wants to step up and start enforcing these trade agreement and say we entered into these trade agreements for a reason, and that is to uphold the terms of the agreements and make sure everyone is playing by the same rules, trade confidence in this country is going to continue to ebb, and it is going to get worse. I think that would be disastrous ultimately for our long-term national economic growth and for helping our workers and expanding economic opportunities both at home and abroad.
So there is a big question mark with the majority of the people in this Congress with regard to the administration's willingness to enforce these agreements.
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Mr. KIND. I look forward to working with my colleague here who, I think, appreciates this. As we go forward with this new template, we also need to focus on capacity building in a lot of these nations that we are trying to enter into agreements with, countries like Panama and Peru that aren't exactly wealthy and have a lot of resources, but to enable them to establish the institutions so they can do a better job of policing labor standards or environmental standards within their own countries. I think there is a great need and calling for us to do that.
But, ultimately, there has to be a willingness on our part and the administration's to take these agreements seriously and to enforce them seriously.
We all hear it back home; when you see someone losing their job or a plant closing down, it is usually laid at the doorstep of one of two factors. Either it is bad trade or it is illegal immigration. It is obviously more complex than that, but we need to have a broader discussion within the context of trade, as well, in regard to worker empowerment so that when people do lose a job, they don't have to make a showing of trade relation in order to get any assistance from the government. When a factory closes, it does not matter to the family affected whether it is trade related or some other circumstance, because they feel the pain the same way.
We have to step up our efforts in education and worker training in this country so our workers have the skills to compete in a 21st century economy and so they can be full participants. We should also be talking more about portability of health care and pension and retirement security, so it is not necessarily tied to a single job or occupation; and when they lose it, they lose all of that, the whole fabric of supporting their family is destroyed overnight.
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Mr. KIND. I think you are exactly right. I would submit that in a short while we will be engaged in a immigration reform debate in this Congress. But as long as we have a huge economic disparity right across our border and throughout the Western Hemisphere, really we will be battling the issue of people wanting to come to the United States to realize the hope and the promise of our country and a better way of life for themselves and their families.
Trade is a way to try to elevate people's standards upwards and create job opportunities across the globe. Or we will always be at the losing end of the immigration proposition because of what the United States has to offer and the temptation to enter this country either legally or illegally for a better way of life.
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Mr. KIND. There are a lot of positive features to trade, but the congressional district I represent, western Wisconsin, is still heavily manufacturing, a lot of agriculture, and there's been a lot of displacement and a lot of jobs lost.
And I don't think any of us here on the floor tonight are promising that with this new template of trade that we're going to be able to guarantee everyone's job in this country. You just can't do it. In fact, each generation of Americans have had to wrestle with their own transition and economic displacement that's occurred at that time period. Whether we're moving from the agrarian to the industrial age, from the industrial age to the information age, to the next new thing, there are going to be displacements.
As long as we can remain the most innovative and creative Nation in the world, which we've been able to sustain for some time, we're going to be able to make those adjustments probably a lot easier than other people around the globe.
I don't think anyone's here to offer this hope or promise that everyone's job is going to be guaranteed with this new template right now. We can't do that any more than we can shut down the information age or shut down the World Wide Web and the Internet. Now with the push of a button, we've got services crossing borders and collaborations being created that we've never
imagined before, and that's a large part of globalization today.
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Mr. KIND. You're exactly right. We're less than 4 percent of the world population, and we can no sooner turn ourselves into a fortress of solitude and hope to maintain economic progress and opportunity in our own country.
But the Democrats in Congress haven't been dealing with trade in a vacuum. We've been promoting this innovation agenda for some time. We have had legislation on the floor to try to enhance further fields of study in those crucial fields of math, science, engineering, technology, those fields that will enable our students and workers to be innovative and creative and develop into high-paying jobs that we hope to see here in the United States.
We've been moving that legislation forward, working with our Senate counterparts. We're trying to increase research investment in the National Institutes of Health, for instance, so we can be at the cutting edge of medical and scientific breakthroughs. All this is interwoven into the economic agenda the Democrats have been standing for that the New Democratic Coalition has been a big part of in helping to formulate that agenda.
That's, I think, the direction we need, and I think the American people want to hear that type of message and see that type of agenda. Our concern is there's a lot of economic anxiety throughout the country, and they want to know what their role is going to be in this global marketplace. Perhaps more importantly, they want to know what kind of future their children have to look forward to.
The Democrats for the first time have been able to get legislation to the floor that speaks to those needs, that starts speaking to those anxieties. Will it solve all those problems? No, but I think it's the best hope that we have to make sure that our country is well positioned to stay competitive globally.
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Mr. KIND. I also want to commend JIM MCCRERY, who is ranking member of the Ways and Means Committee, and the Republican colleagues on Ways and Means who are also embracing this template to go forward on trade agreements. But as Chairman Rangel reminded all of us today in caucus, this new template doesn't commit any single member on future trade agreements. We will still have the opportunity to review them when the President formally submits them for our consideration. We will see if they are the best deal struck for our Nation and for our constituents' best interest.
I think now, with this agreement, the template is finally shaping up to where we can get wider bipartisan support. There is still a lot of work that needs to be done. We can't hold this out as the silver bullet to the challenges that our workers are experiencing day in and day out, but trade is going to be an important part of our economic equation, whether we like it or not, because of the effects of global warming and the ease of transporting goods and products, services, across borders, all that is breaking down.
The question is, whether we roll up in a fetal position and pretend it's not happening and try to pursue neo-isolationist policies, or whether we embrace this change and try to make the changes that we have to, to be in the best position to stay competitive.
That's really, I think, what the discussion will be about in the coming weeks when we start analyzing these trade agreements coming forward. I want to thank my colleagues for taking some time this evening to discuss a very important issue on the floor. Hopefully, we will have some more discussions in the future.
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