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

Location: Washington DC



Mr. UDALL of Colorado. Mr. Speaker, I rise in opposition to H.R. 3045, the Dominican Republic-Central America-United States Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act, DR-CAFTA. Deciding how to vote on this has not been easy, but ultimately I believe that the bad in the agreement outweighs the good.

I definitely believe free trade brings benefits, but in this case I question who would get those benefits. I agree that open markets have helped lift up the lives of people in many countries of the world. But I am also alarmed about the growing economic inequality within and between countries. Unless free trade is also fair trade, we risk lifting up the few to the detriment of the many.

I think that an improved commercial relationship with the Dominican Republic and the five Central American countries could benefit our economy and U.S. farmers, workers, and manufacturers. But I am concerned about a number of provisions of DR-CAFTA. The agreement will help some U.S. agricultural industries, services markets, and high technology, chemical, medical and scientific equipment companies, among others. But it will harm other agricultural markets, and could have a detrimental impact on small Central American farmers as well. We ought to be encouraging rural economic development in this part of the world, not undercutting it.

The most problematic aspect of DR-CAFTA is that the administration failed to incorporate internationally recognized labor standards. Nor does the agreement clearly require any country to maintain and enforce a set of basic environmental regulations. America's interests are not simply about the bottom line. The U.S. should also be concerned about maintaining and enhancing the high mark set by American workers. While expanded trade is important to this country and the world, it will only be beneficial to a broad range of people in our Nation and abroad if it is carefully shaped to include basic standards and adequately protect the rights of workers and the environment. This agreement does not meet that test.

DR-CAFTA would also allow foreign investors to challenge our laws and regulations before international tribunals, bypassing domestic courts, if they believe U.S. laws on labor, environmental protections, and public health and safety reduce the value of their investments. The U.S. has already spent millions defending our laws from NAFTA, which includes a similar provision. Foreign companies have sued the U.S. over California's ban of MTBE, a California law regulating harmful gold mining practices, and the Agriculture Department's decision to close the border to Canadian beef due to concerns about mad cow disease.

DR-CAFTA also creates a challenge to the safety of the American food supply because it is silent on the issue of imported goods meeting the rigorous food safety and sanitary rules of the United States Department of Agriculture. This agreement takes a step backward in our efforts to provide the American consumer with the safest food possible.

Finally, the agreement includes a provision precluding generic pharmaceutical products from obtaining regulatory marketing approval for a 5-8 year period if approval has been granted for a brand name drug in that market. Especially since low-cost generics are already available in the DR-CAFTA countries, this provision will only serve to make drugs unavailable and unaffordable for most Central Americans, who are suffering in great numbers from HIV/AIDS and untreated diabetes, among other maladies. While market access for U.S. goods is important, we shouldn't be in the business of potentially undermining a country's ability to provide prescription drugs to its citizens.

As part of a long-term strategy to strengthen the American economy, I have supported a number of agreements to expand access to foreign markets for exports from our nation's farmers and businesses. But DR-CAFTA is one I cannot support.

I don't want this country to miss out on economic opportunities, but the problems with this agreement are real, and I don't believe this agreement will create the opportunities its proponents have touted. In the end, our progress together has to be about raising, and not lowering wages, reducing and not adding to the world's poverty, making more ``haves'' and fewer ``have-nots.''

I do believe in actively shaping globalization, not passively closing our doors. Although I cannot support DR-CAFTA today, I remain committed to this activist course and hope the Administration will present us with an agreement that deserves our support.

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