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

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, not that long ago, for the average American, our world was not a threatening place. Not long ago, there was little reason for the average American to feel anxious about the future. The United States was the only superpower; our economy was enjoying record growth and job creation.

Those things are no longer true. The rise of terrorism, the war in Iraq, international economic competition from new sources like China and India, as well as increased economic insecurity here at home--together these forces have cost us a lot of our optimism, a lot of our self-confidence.

We are a people whose birthright is a belief in a better future, a belief in our ability to control our own fate, at home and abroad. That is our national character. But these days, our character is being tested.

Even in the best of times, trade legislation has been a touchy subject. These days, it can be among the most contentious issues we confront. Our trade deals carry the freight of our insecurities, economic and otherwise.

They carry our worries about our place in international competition, about job security, about losing our grip on our standard of living. There are real reasons that Americans are worried these days. Studies by the Federal Reserve and others confirm that income mobility--the opportunity for children to do better in life than their parents is declining, approaching the levels of more static, developing economies.

Without poring over statistics, Americans can see that happening. The reality of self-determination, the fact of social mobility, has been the foundation of our optimism. When the facts change, when the pace of mobility slows, it shows. Instead of a generation or two between poverty and a solid middle class living, today it can take five or six generations.

We have yet to produce one single new job since this administration came into office. Not one. Whomever you blame or however you explain it, that is a fact that registers in the lives of Americans. Not since the Great Depression has it taken so long to replace lost jobs.

That is why long-term unemployment--over half a year looking for a job--is the lot of over a million and a half Americans.

These conditions keep wages low, falling behind the cost of living. Real wages are falling at a rate we haven't seen in 14 years.

Into these tough times comes the word that 2 billion new workers, in China and India, to take the two biggest examples, are now competing with Americans for new jobs created in the global economy.

These workers are highly motivated--the poverty they are rising from, the pace of growth they can see in their cities, is a powerful incentive. Their governments are increasingly sophisticated about attracting investment and expertise from here and around the world to fuel their national economic strategies.

With these troubling trends, Americans are in no mood to accept text book platitudes about the benefits of free trade. They want to see some of the gains come home.

I am personally convinced that trade is in fact not only ultimately good for us, but inevitable. Standing at our shores, commanding the tides of trade to retreat, is not a plan for our Nation's economic future.

We fought and won a Cold War in the last century a war against a totalitarian economic ideology, to protect and project American values of political and economic freedom in the world.

Now is not the time to doubt those values. They are still the right values for us, and the right values for the citizens of other nations. Free men and women, freely exchanging goods and ideas, innovating, creating. That is the world we fought for, that is the evidence of our success.

And what is the alternative? Do we expect to close our ports to products Americans want to buy? Can we expect to successfully block American companies from seeking profitable investments overseas?

In today's world, American leadership is a reality. We cannot lead the world in the search for security but at the same time retreat economically. Trade can help cement peaceful ties, raise living standards, give desperate people hope and put idle hands to work. Trade must be part of our security strategy, or that strategy will not succeed.

If there is to be a better world ahead of us, wealthier, healthier, freer--and I am certain that there is--then expanding international trade will be part of it. I don't think you can envision that world without expanding trade ties, expanding economic integration.

But there is no free lunch. This world comes at a cost. It comes at the cost of predictability, at the cost of stability. The economist Joseph Schumpeter called capitalism a process of creative destruction. And that it is.

The telephone replaced the telegraph, the automobile replaced the horse, supermarkets replaced mom-and-pop grocery stores. Our farms are mechanized; our manufacturing is robotized; our information is computerized. With every new idea, with every new invention, an old product, an old technology, and the jobs they sustained, are left behind.

Our Nation has become wealthy riding the waves of innovation, opportunity, efficiency, and economic growth. That, in part, is the American way.

But another part of the American way is our shared commitment to each other. With every wave of change, from agrarian nation to manufacturing power, to the world's richest economy, we have created the institutions to cope with the human costs of economic change. Child labor laws, minimum wage, the 40-hour workweek, these are evidence of our values. And we have Social Security, Medicare, unemployment insurance--all ways to share the costs and spread the burdens of a churning economy.

Most fundamentally, we have established the rights of working men and women to bargain collectively for their wages and working conditions: these things are also the American way.

When it is done right, trade makes us more efficient and more productive. With the economic gains from trade we can afford to take care of those whose jobs are lost as the new ones are created.

There is a human logic to this, a logic that says the men and women, and their families and communities, who are displaced by economic change are not to blame for their fate. They should not shoulder alone the costs of change while others reap the benefits.

There is an economic logic, as well--by compensating some for bearing the cost of change, we keep innovation and opportunity expanding for everyone.

And finally there is a political logic. When we all know that we are not alone, that there are resources we can draw on in tough times, we don't have to fight change. Without that assurance, in our open political system, those who bear the cost of change and innovation will--understandably--resist it.

If trade is ultimately good for our economy as a whole, we must make sure that it is good for American workers and their families, too.

This trade deal does not do that, and that is why I cannot support it.

I said 2 years ago that I was concerned about the lack of effective enforcement provisions for the labor standards in the Chile and Singapore trade deals, and the precedent that might set for the CAFTA negotiations. What we now call the ``Jordan standard,'' that treats labor provisions on the same terms as intellectual property and commercial provisions, allows for effective enforcement when a party fails to live up to its labor rights commitments. That effective enforcement standard is part of the Jordan Free Trade Agreement, now in effect.

But instead of building on that success, CAFTA comes to us today without that effective means of enforcement.

At a time when the political support for trade is shaky at best, with American families justifiably anxious about the volatility and insecurity just below the surface of our economy, why would we roll back the standards for labor protections in our trade deals?

It just doesn't make any sense.

I notice that there is a lot of new language in this trade agreement about labor rights in the countries of Central America and the Dominican Republic. That shows that our negotiators are getting the message about how important those provisions are to the political support we need for trade.

But instead of providing labor standards with the same level of effective enforcement that American businesses will get for their concerns, this deal leaves labor a second-class citizen.

But it is not just the specific terms of this trade deal that concern me today. If we are going to compete in today's global economy, we need a plan to protect American living standards and a plan to keep our Nation the most competitive on Earth.

We need a good defense, but we need a good offense, too.

We need a strong trade adjustment assistance program, and we need the will to enforce it. We need to make sure that health insurance, pensions, and other basic benefits are protected and portable in a changing world.

I think we should consider a real wage insurance policy that addresses not just the jobs lost by trade--in reality, trade is a small part of the churning in our economy--but any job loss that could put a family's standard of living at risk.

If we do it right--and right now we just have a small pilot program out there--wage insurance could provide real help to families in transition from one job to another and keep our labor markets open and dynamic.

But important as those kinds of protections can be, they are just playing defense. Right now, I don't see a plan for an offense, a plan for us to take on the rising competition from around the world, a plan to make American working men and women the winners.

That is going to take investments in education, in research, and in new technologies. That is going to take a commitment to making our workforce the most productive in the world, giving them the tools and the skills they need to compete. That is going to take a plan to create a new generation of good-paying jobs.

On the education front, Bill Gates has told us that our high school graduates are not up to the standards his company needs. Newt Gingrich has called the administration's lack of investment in basic research, and I quote, ``unilateral disarmament'' in the face of international competition. Those are not partisan attacks. Those are warnings we cannot ignore.

Because we don't have an adequate defense for the families who are affected by economic change, because we don't have an effective offense to win in a globalizing economy, I cannot lend my support to this trade deal. It sends the wrong message, it sets the wrong example.

The CAFTA countries themselves are no more than 1 percent of our trade. In many ways, they are not the issue here. I believe it will be good for our country if these nations can enter our markets. It will make those economies stronger, make them better neighbors, and open markets for the products made by American workers.

But only if the deal is done right. Only if we have the protections in place that can truly lift human rights, labor, and environmental standards there, and build the protections for American workers and producers here.

So I will vote against CAFTA not because I oppose trade but because I support smart trade, trade that works for American families, trade that is good for both sides.

I am afraid that more trade agreements along these lines will weaken domestic support for expanding trade. We need the full, informed consent of American citizens for trade, we need a trade agenda Americans can support, and we need to a plan to defend our standard of living here and to compete to win in the global economy.

We need to win the support of American working families for expanded trade, and restore their faith in our ability to win. Until then, trade deals like this one will just add to their worries.

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