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United States-Singapore Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act and the United States- Chile Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. KOHL. Mr. President, I rise today to explain my opposition to the Chile and Singapore Free Trade Agreements. As a former businessman, I understand that trade has always been an important part of our economy. American workers are so productive that access to foreign markets is key to their prosperity. Last year alone the State of Wisconsin exported $10.6 billion worth of goods around the world. Unfortunately, because the Administration chose to abuse the fast track process and include unrelated immigration issues in these agreements, I was not able to support these agreements.

My opposition to these agreements is not based on the tariff reductions and market access measures included in the bills. Agreements between the U.S. and these countries make good economic sense. Canada and Europe already have free trade agreements with Chile and it has hurt our access to that market. While U.S. products face a 10 percent tariff, the same products from other countries do not. In Wisconsin we sell large mining equipment and bulldozers to Chile, but since 2000 our sales of mining equipment has tailed off. There may be many reasons for this reduction in commerce, but the fact that we face a 10 percent tariff, while our competitors from Europe do not, is not helping. This agreement will go far toward giving U.S. companies a fair and even playing field.

That said, our trade policy with other countries has been far from an unqualified success. Since 2000 Wisconsin has lost 70,000 manufacturing jobs. Almost one out of every eight jobs in the state in manufacturing has disappeared. Some of this job loss is a result of the recession. Some of these jobs have been moved to Mexico, and some of these have been unable to compete with low wages in China. Most damaging, however, may be the currency manipulation of the Chinese Government. Some experts believe the Chinese may be artificially keeping their currency undervalued by as much as 50 percent. This means products from China are 50 percent cheaper than they would normally be. This is on top of low wages and almost no environmental regulations, which also work to depress prices.

Trade can only work when countries obey the rules and follow the law. I supported bringing China into the WTO because that would make it harder for them to cheat on their agreements. However, this administration has proven unwilling to press this currency issue with the Chinese. They have allowed the problem to fester unchecked, and our manufacturing base is paying the price.

The agreements before us now, however, are not with countries that have a history of avoiding their commitments, or that do not enforce their labor laws, or with countries that are ruled by dictatorships. Singapore and Chile are responsible democracies with solid labor laws and labor unions. In the case of Singapore, the wage rates are comparable, although not the same, as the United States. Chile and Singapore have little in common with China, and should not be painted with the same broad brush. These countries also represent a significantly smaller portion of our foreign trade. Singapore represents 1.7 percent, and Chile represents 0.3 percent of total U.S. Trade, exports and imports combined and opening our market to them will have much less impact on our economy than our opening to China.

Many have criticized these agreements because the labor provisions attached to the agreement are not strong enough. A recent United States-Jordan Free Trade Agreement had much stronger labor provisions than the agreements before us now. That agreement had real accountability and real consequences if Jordan failed to keep up its side of the bargain. The administration argues that Chile and Singapore have responsible laws that are adequately enforced, and so do not need the highly prescriptive language that was included in the Jordan agreement. I agree with their arguments.

Let me be clear about the following. While these labor provisions may be adequate for Chile and Singapore, countries with good records, they should not be used as a model for future multilateral agreements in the region. The Free Trade Area of the Americas, and the Central American Free Trade Agreement will need substantially stricter labor and environmental provisions than these to get my vote. Large multilateral agreements with countries that are only fledgling democracies and have poor records of protecting workers cannot be treated in the same manner as Chile and Singapore.

[Page S10587]

Even though these agreements had problems and were not perfect, I was inclined to support them because I generally vote to support free trade. I felt these countries would be good partners and these agreements would be unlikely to have any significant negative impact on our economy. But the administration pushed the envelope of fast track too far when immigration provisions were included in the implementing legislation.

Both trade agreements contain provisions which create a new visa category for the temporary entry of business professionals. These provisions were negotiated as part of the larger trade agreement by the United States Trade Representative, USTR, which has no specific authority to implement new visa categories or make modifications to our temporary entry system. Further, these provisions were negotiated without the direction of Congress, which has traditionally debated and decided upon our Nation's immigration policy. These actions by the USTR set a dangerous precedent for immigration policy to be negotiated behind closed doors without a complete debate. Both our Nation's security and its diversity depend on well-considered immigration policy.

Second, the administration transmitted the implementing language for these trade agreements to the Senate before responding to concerns expressed at a Judiciary Committee hearing. This language is unamendable once transmitted, so it is critical that Congress be consulted fully on implementing language before transmission. Immigration policy lies squarely in the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee; for the administration to finalize immigration language before the Judiciary Committee has had a chance to analyze a draft and improve the language is an unacceptable way to do business.

These agreements I have decided to oppose will undoubtedly pass. Chile and Singapore have shown they are willing to play
by the rules, and have democracies who will hold them accountable if they undermine their own labor and environmental laws. I expect there will be disputes in the future, there always are between partners, but Chile and Singapore will work with us to settle those disagreements when they come around. However, future agreements with countries with lower standards will have to do more to secure labor and environmental rights before I will support them. We need to move back toward the United States-Jordan model, back toward more accountability in trade agreements before this administration can expect my vote in favor of FTAA or CAFTA.

This undermining of the fast-track procedure, however, cannot be repeated. I voted for fast track, and support it as a way to give the President the ability to negotiate with other countries in good faith, but it should not be used for issues that are not trade related. Future agreements that carry unrelated provisions will not get my vote. I hope the administration hears this message and gets back to the business of focusing on our trade agenda, and leaving the immigration issues to the Congress where they belong.

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