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

Location: Washington, DC



Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, I rise today to oppose approval of the US-Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA).

On the floor today we are considering a far reaching and important trade agreement with our Central American neighbors, and yet we will only spend two hours debating DR-CAFTA. I am disappointed that more time was not provided to debate this highly controversial legislation. We will have spent more time this week naming various post offices than seriously debating this trade agreement. This is simply wrong. When the House considered the North American Free Trade (NAFTA), a full eight hours of debate was allowed. This is how the House should consider such agreements, with meaningful and extended debate.

International trade is not just inevitable, it is a good thing. But lowering the cost of goods and increasing their availably is not the single goal of trade. Trade done right helps lift the global standard of living and works to protect the irreplaceable environment we inherited. Trade is about values. Trade agreements are not just about goods and commodities; they are also about what constitutes acceptable behavior in environmental matters, worker's rights, intellectual property, and so forth. We should make sure we export the goods we produce and not the workers who produce them. Unfortunately, the DR-CAFTA before us today fails these basic tests. The DR-CAFTA does not contain the values we would require in America and that we must help spread in Central America. Even the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out in opposition to DR-CAFTA because of its effect on the poor and most vulnerable in Central America.

Each new trade agreement entered into by the U.S. should be very closely scrutinized. Each ought to include the strongest enforceable worker rights, human rights, and environmental safeguards attainable, like those included in the U.S.-Jordan agreement of 2000. Each should also include enforceable rules to protect intellectual property rights and guarantee access for U.S.-based corporations to foreign markets. This can be achieved in trade agreements if we enter negotiations with clear principles.

I voted against the Chile and Singapore trade agreements, for example, because the inadequate labor and environmental provisions included in them, in my estimation, failed to meet the negotiating objectives that Congress carefully spelled out in the 2002 law extending fast-track negotiating authority to the President. They did not provide, for example, that trade dispute settlement mechanisms within those free trade agreements afford equivalent treatment to trade-related labor and environmental protection as intellectual property rights and capital subsidies, and the impending DR-CAFTA fails in this regard, too. The agreement between the US and Jordan, on the other hand, is a fine example that good agreements are achievable.

I am deeply troubled by the DR-CAFTA before us today. The DR-CAFTA does not contain strong, enforceable provisions to protect internationally-recognized worker rights. Nor does it have any provisions for environmental safeguards. Such provisions are critical because they both preserve existing labor laws and environmental standards in the affected countries, and because they ensure that American companies will be competing on a more level playing field with our Central American neighbors. Without such provisions, U.S. companies and employees are forced to compete with countries that have inadequate wage, working conditions, or environmental protections. The people of all countries lose in such a "race to the bottom".

Mr. Speaker, I am going to vote no on DR-CAFTA tonight, and I urge my colleagues to do the same.


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