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Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today to express my strong opposition to the CAFTA implementing legislation before us today. Unlike NAFTA, CAFTA won't encourage the migration of a large number of manufacturing jobs out of the country or significant worsen our already terrible trade deficit; CAFTA countries only account for 1.5 percent of total U.S. trade. And unlike the U.S.-Australia free trade agreement which put my State's dairy farmers at a competitive disadvantage, CAFTA harms most industries like sugar and textiles that do not have a large presence in Wisconsin.

But there are bigger reasons to reject CAFTA today--reasons that apply across all regions of the country and should convince all Senators. We should reject CAFTA because it makes equal trading partners out of countries with labor and environmental standards far below those in the United States. Instead of using our negotiating power with these countries to lock in improvements in these standards, CAFTA establishes rules on workers' rights that take a step backward from the labor conditions that exist in current trade programs with Central America.

When we make deals like CAFTA, we do more than give up jobs to low-wage countries. When we make deals like CAFTA, we accept and encourage a global economy where workers' rights, living wages, and humane treatment are an anachronism. When we make deals like CAFTA, we tell U.S. businesses that the tough environmental standards they live by--and pay for--are not necessary for their overseas competitors. Why does the continuing flow of jobs moving overseas surprise us given this message--a message sent by our top trade officials and negotiators?

In a region where labor laws fall far short of minimum international standards and where workers are routinely intimidated, fired, and threatened for trying to exercise their most basic rights on the job, CAFTA's move backwards on workers' rights is unacceptable. As a businessman, I understand that trade agreements that open markets can be good for the economy--but not if they do so by accepting as the global norm the least common denominator in labor and environmental standards.

The administration has agreed to support $40 million per year from fiscal year 2006 to fiscal year 2009 to aid CAFTA countries with their labor and environmental protection programs and an additional $30 million per year over the same period to assist farmers in CAFTA countries who may be displaced by the expected increase of agricultural imports from the U.S. Mr. President, I am in favor of opening international markets for U.S. goods, but why do we need to spend $190 million over 3 years to have countries trade with us? Wouldn't it have been easier to have CAFTA countries work with the International Labor Organization to develop the capacity to monitor and enforce labor and environmental protections?

At a time when the trade deficit keeps rising--$655 billion in fiscal year 2004 up from $530 billion in fiscal year 2003--and the Federal deficit is at an all-time high, the U.S. needs to negotiate free-trade agreements where both sides play by the same rules. When I meet with constituents and the conversation turns to trade or jobs, the topic of China inevitably comes up and I am asked what we are going to do about China. Mr. President, what are we going to do about China? I certainly have trouble trusting those who negotiated CAFTA to work out the answer to that dilemma--an answer that will have a much larger and more direct impact on our economy.

We cannot remain competitive with countries that pay their workers next to nothing, have no labor or environmental standards, and who offer their employees little or no health care. Yet we are considering a trade agreement right now that asks us to do just that. And though the CAFTA countries are not large enough to impact our economy significantly, the precedent set by agreements like CAFTA--and the attitude among our trade negotiators that CAFTA reveals--will. We are the strongest economy in the world and can and should be able to compete and prosper in a global marketplace. But we will not if we continue to sign up for trade agreements that allow other countries to undercut us by producing goods using underpaid, abused labor and unacceptable environmental practices. I urge my colleagues to reject CAFTA--and reject the misguided, eventually disastrous trade policy it represents.

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