Why Chambliss is Concerned About CAFTA
Administration should involve Congress
By Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)
One of the more important and effective ways to create more jobs in the United States is to increase our trading opportunities by opening foreign markets so that we can sell more American products and increase our business opportunities overseas. The tangible rewards of increased sales make the importance of supporting more open trade clear and convincing.
Georgia is at the crossroads of international trade. Atlanta boasts the world's busiest passenger airport, and Savannah and Brunswick are two of the fastest-growing ports in the United States. Georgia is home to strong international companies such as Coca-Cola, Home Depot, United Parcel Service and Georgia Pacific and an export-competitive agriculture industry that thrives on international sales. Georgia was also home to a thriving textile sector that has suffered the costs of free trade, with mills shuttered across the state and the entire Southeast region.
We cannot talk about the benefits of trade without understanding and preparing for the impacts beforehand. That is why measures such as job training in the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program and compensation provisions in the Byrd Law enjoy such wide bipartisan support in the Congress.
Bilateral free-trade agreements are useful but limited tools. They work seamlessly if the negotiating partners are at similar stages of economic development. Otherwise, comparative advantages of one trading partner may be perceived as unfair competition by the other. While this may be a simplistic point of view to some, it is one my constituents live with every day. Therefore, I believe multilateral negotiations, like those in the World Trade Organization, have the potential to provide much greater benefits and more meaningful results to the American worker.
When Congress granted trade-promotion authority to President Bush in 2001, we understood that each agreement would have to be judged on the merits and that some might not pass the Congress. It is critical that the administration implement the authority in a careful and responsible manner so that we can get the best negotiation and trade policy possible to benefit American workers.
Trade-promotion authority also requires the administration to consult actively with members of Congress and the public on a regular basis. Unfortunately, it seems the Office of the United States Trade Representative focuses its efforts almost exclusively on Congress before a vote. In addition, it faces much more of a difficult task in reaching out broadly and deeply to a skeptical public when provisions adversely impact one or more sensitive job-producing sectors.
Our negotiators are the best in the world, but Congress will ultimately evaluate their work based on the impact to industries in our country. Our long-term trade agenda is not well-served if we do not have the support and understanding of the people we are elected to represent.
In the past, I have been sensitive to extraneous provisions when they have been included in the context of free-trade agreements. For instance, the U.S. trade representative negotiated changes to domestic immigration law in the Chile and Singapore free-trade agreements that went beyond then-existing limits for various visa categories. Those provisions did not provide any protection for displaced American workers. Not only is this bad policy but it is not the function of the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative to negotiate changes in immigration law.
As was done with the North American, Australia and other free-trade agreements, Congress will assess the benefits and costs of each trade agreement independently. Members of Congress must weigh their votes against their personal philosophies as well as the impact on their respective constituencies. As chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, I readily acknowledge the benefits of the Dominican Republic-Central America Free Trade Agreement to farmers and ranchers in Georgia and across the country. However, we must make sure that we have not written-off those who are negatively impacted and economically dislocated as a result.
In the future, I would hope that the administration will make a stronger and more concerted effort to reach out and work with Congress as trade negotiations are under way while, at the same time, ensuring that American industries and workers are truly benefiting from these agreements.
Chambliss is chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee.