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Public Statements

Remarks by John Kerry in Wheeling, West Virginia

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Location: Wheeling, WV


"Ensuring a Level Playing Field for American Workers"

April 26, 2004

Wheeling, West Virginia

It is an honor to be with you. I wish I had been able to make it to Wheeling on Saturday and go to The Capital Music Hall. Not just because it is a national treasure and so many of the best country/western singers have filled that hall, but because I wanted to hear "Asleep at the Wheel" play. I had no idea that the President and the Vice President had started a band.

I want to thank Senator Rockefeller for that kind introduction, and it's an honor to start my "Jobs First Bus Tour" in West Virginia. Before I begin to talk about my plan to build a stronger American economy by enforcing our trade agreements, and I want to take a moment to comment and thank the Governor for leading us in that moment of silence in honor of Marine Lance Corporal Michael J. Smith.

Here in West Virginia and across the country the stakes have never been higher when more than 100,000 of our men and women are serving their country right now. We think of them when we see the flag or when we sing our national anthem. And when we see those flagged draped coffins bringing our fallen home, we are overwhelmed with pride and pain at the same time.

We are proud of their service. We're proud of the way our soldiers care for those on their final trip home. And we're pained to know that yet another American family is filled with grief like the Smith family here in West Virginia.

No matter what our differences are about how we got to Iraq, we are united in supporting our troops. We're lucky to have the best-trained and motivated military in the world, and their service is their gift to a grateful nation. And each one of us here today stands shoulder-to-shoulder with our men and women who stand in harm's way at this hour.

Earlier today, I stood with some of the Tri-State Area's best in the mine. And I want to thank the Mine Worker's for their endorsement this morning. I am lucky to have their support, and I look forward to finding a long-term financial solution to the coal miners retiree health care program. And I look forward to coming back to West Virginia, visiting the coalfields, and talking about my plan to invest in clean coal technology.

Being able to spend time with them this morning, reminded me that our workers, the men and women who build this country every day, are heroes too. They live lives of quiet inspiration, taking care of their families. The best part about running for president is that you get to meet so many of them. You get to stand with them, shake their hands, and share their concerns and hopes about their country.

We all know that America is at its best when it's at work. When the men and women of West Virginia and across America, can wake up and go to work and make the things that we count on and need-that the world counts on and needs. Whether its cars or computers or clothes, our country is strong when the machines are running, products are being made, and people are cashing paychecks to care for their families. That's the rhythm, that's the sound, of a strong American economy. And in three short years, that sound has been silenced in far too many communities in our country.

It is time for us to get our economy back in line with our values. What does that mean? It means not rewarding companies that send jobs overseas, but rewarding those that keep jobs here. We have lost 2.8 million manufacturing jobs-10,000 here in West Virginia-and many of those jobs have gone overseas.

But I have a comprehensive economic growth plan that will create 10 million new jobs here at home, including 56,000 here in West Virginia. And we need a strategy to ensure that they are good, high paying jobs that allow parents to raise their family with security and dignity.

That's why I announced recently one step to end the insane practice of giving companies tax incentives to move jobs overseas. And we will use the savings to cut taxes for 99 percent of businesses that want to expand and create jobs here at home. Today, if a company is torn between creating jobs here or overseas, we now have a tax code that tells you to go overseas. That's wrong. And when I am President, it will end.

This is just basic common sense. We need to apply the same kind of fairness when it comes to enforcing our trade agreements.

But I want to be clear. America must always engage in the global economy. We must always look for new markets to sell our products. When we engage with the world on a leveling playing field, no country prospers more than ours.

We need to trade. We always have. America is the strongest economy in the world because we've traded for our entire history. It's what transformed New York and New York Harbor after the American Revolution. It's what prompted the building of the Erie Canal to move goods and services west to Ohio and beyond. It sparked our sense of discovery and inspired Lewis and Clarke to find the Northwest Passage. And trade has helped us connect with other countries after the Iron Curtain fell.

Trade brings us to the world and the world back to us. It connects us and we won't ever stop.

Now some may disagree with this, and that's okay. But I think we can all agree that we must enforce these trade agreements on terms that are fair, in line with our basic values, and help our workers and businesses compete. When we agree to a trade agreement, the American people deserve to have other nations live up to their side of the bargain.

We have rules for a reason and they need to be enforced. The American people deserve to know what they are facing when it comes to our trade policies.

American workers are willing to compete, but they don't want to be hurt by their own government that rewards companies that ship their jobs overseas. They're willing to compete, but don't want to be hurt by their own government that turns a blind-eye to China and other country's that don't keep their part of the bargain. They're willing to compete, but don't want to be hurt by their own government that ignores abusive child labor practices, suppression of worker rights, destruction of the environment, and other violations of basic universal rights.

Just because we live in a global economy, it does not mean that we leave our standards and values and ideals at our nation's shores.

To engage and win in the global economy, we must not only open markets, we must ensure a level playing field for American workers. As with most economic issues that impact American jobs and American workers, when it comes to enforcing our trade laws, this administration has been asleep on the job.

This Administration seems to think that everything is just fine the way things are. We don't and the numbers and reports of trade violations show that we need a new outlook when it comes to our trade policies.

Here are the facts. We have a $500 billion trade deficit. Because of our fiscal deterioration, we are reliant on foreign creditors. Forty percent of our public debt is now held outside the country-more than 20 percent with China and Japan. Foreign investment has gone from a net inflow of over $40 billion in 2001 to a net outflow of nearly $65 billion in 2003. We are no longer sticking up for workers and we've gone from filing on average 11 cases with the World Trade Organization a year during 1995-200 to just about 3 per year in this Administration.

This administration continues to stand by as China manipulates its currency. We put in special China safeguards against harmful trade surges, and this Administration waited 17 months to act as hundreds of thousands lost jobs. They waited 17 months before they even bothered to issue the procedures to tell American companies how to apply for relief. And we've seen software piracy in India rise 40 percent costing our companies $500 million last year with little action from our own government.

You don't need a Phd. in economic trade policy to realize that there's no balance here and that the scales have already tipped.

Whatever the differences that some of us may have on trade; all of us can agree that our trade agreements and trade laws must be enforced. That is not a philosophical question about free trade or protectionism; it is just a common sense question-why aren't we enforcing our own laws on behalf of our own workers and businesses.

This Administration thinks that things are moving along just fine. We're seeing job after job shipped overseas, with net job losses on our shores and that's just fine. We see too many workers taking new jobs at lower wages with less health benefits, and they think that is just fine. We're seeing our own workers lose benefits and the average family income has dropped by $1,400 a year and that doesn't concern them either.

When I am president, we will take every step we need to make America competitive. We will not turn a blind eye to clear trade violations when American jobs are on the line. When we enter an agreement, those countries will know that they must live up to their part of the bargain. All new trade agreements will include enforceable labor and environmental provisions in the core of the agreement. We will create a level playing field for our workers and our businesses.

First, I'll call for immediate reinstatement of the of the "Super 301" process to bring down the foreign trade barriers that are hurting American industries and their workers.

One of the key provisions in our trade agreement with China is a safeguard that provides protections when Chinese imports in a certain sector grow too rapidly. Every time the bipartisan International Trade Commission (ITC) has recommended to the president that the safeguard be used to protect a domestic industry, he has said no. Even when the ITC's recommendation to protect American companies was unanimous the president said "No."

The U.S. International Trade Commission unanimously voted to impose safeguards on steel wire garment hangers from China after Chinese hanger imports grew by 800%. One of the petitioners, Cleaners Hanger Company, has a facility in Cleveland and its parent company is also headquartered in Cleveland. The Administration rejected their request for relief. When I'm president, we will not turn our back on those workers and their families.

Second, I will order an immediate 120-day review of all existing trade agreements to ensure that our trade partners are living up to their obligations, that trade agreements are being enforced, and that they are working as anticipated. If they're not, I'll take necessary steps to ensure they are. And we won't sign any new agreements until the review is complete and the recommendations are put in place.

Third, I will step-up action to strengthen workers rights and stamp out child labor. I call on the Administration to immediately investigate China's repression of worker rights, and report back before this election. We will create an annual review that will establish core labor rights around the world. And while this administration seeks every year to gut the funding for fighting abusive child labor standards and promoting internationally recognized worker rights, I will increase those efforts by 50% in my first budget.

Fourth, I will double the United States Trade Representatives trade enforcement budget to actively pursue our trading interests and aggressively file cases with the WTO where appropriate.

Fifth, I will create a Small Business Advocacy Office in the USTR to make it easier for small and medium sized businesses to access our trade law.

And finally, I will launch a no-nonsense effort to stop the illegal currency manipulation that's going on in countries like China and Japan. I won't wait three years to get tough-I will get tough on day one because our jobs and people's livelihoods are on the line.

These new trade enforcement policies won't build a wall around America. They'll build a stronger economy for America. An economy where our businesses and workers can compete, and an economy that no longer leaves our ideals about values, fairness, safety, and human rights at home. Just like the things we make every day in America, what American stands for is something worth trading with the world as well.

There are rules in these trade agreements for a reason. They are there to level the playing field so that everyone can compete on equal ground. It gives our workers the chance to compete anytime, anywhere, and it gives our businesses the same chance as well. And these steps will do that for our economy. These steps will move America toward economic strength for our workers and business owners, and the worlds'.

We must never forget what trade is fundamentally about-people. Trade is about the factory worker in Wheeling who wants to know if he or she can count on having a job next month or next year? Trade is about the factory owner who wants to know if our laws are going to be enforced or if he or she has to continue to do business at a disadvantage. Trade is about people buying and selling our products. And trade is about those who suffer when agreements and standards are ignored.

As your president, I will enforce our trade agreements because American workers and our businesses are the best in the world. And they need to know that they have an equal chance to prove that they are second to none.

Here in Wheeling, the step that launched a new era of trade was the building of a single bridge-the suspension bridge in 1849. It crossed the Ohio River so that the things you made could cross America. Sometimes all it takes is one action or one idea that kicks open the door to economic opportunity and prosperity.

If we approach trade in the right way, it can be a source of hope again in America. It can create new jobs and new companies. It can revitalize whole communities. I can make America the global leader in the industries of the future.

But most of all, it can strengthen places like Wheeling. So that once again, the economy can work to strengthen the hopes and dreams of working people here in America and all over the world.

Thank you.

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