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Providing for Consideration of H.R. 5684, United States-Oman Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. HOLT. Mr. Speaker, I oppose the Oman Free Trade Agreement (OFTA).

The Bush administration has again presented the Congress with a flawed trade agreement. I support vigorous international trade, but it should also be fair trade.

The inadequate labor provisions in this agreement are almost identical to those contained in the flawed Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement (DR-CAFTA), which I opposed. After the contentious vote on DR-CAFTA, the United States Trade Representative said he would address the concerns we raised in future agreements. Unfortunately nothing has changed.

OFTA does little to improve the poor protection for workers in Oman. The labor provisions in this trade agreement are lackluster, and will be very hard to enforce. This trade agreement asks Oman only to meet the lowest possible dominator of labor law. We can and we must do better.

Currently, Oman labor laws do not provide for the freedom to associate or the rights to organize and bargain collectively, the most fundamental of workers rights. There are no protections for workers who want to strike in Oman, and there are no independent unions. Oman has said it will change, but it does not have to. These promises should be included as requirements in this agreement, not in unenforceable side letters.

As I have said before, international trade is not just inevitable, it is a good thing. It has enormous potential to raise standards across the globe, disseminate technology and encourage economic growth. But lowering the cost of goods and increasing their availability is not the single goal of trade. Trade should also lift the global standard of living. Trade agreements are not just about goods and commodities; they are also about what constitutes acceptable behavior in workers' rights, environmental matters, intellectual property, and so forth. We should make sure we export the goods we produce and not the workers who produce them. Like the DR-CAFTA and Bahrain Free Trade Agreements, the Oman Free Trade Agreement does not pass these tests. The agreement before us fails both parties: it will not help either America's or Oman's workers.

Each new trade agreement entered into by the United States ought to be closely scrutinized, and ought to include the strongest enforceable worker rights and environmental safeguards attainable. We know how to craft such agreements, for example the U.S.-Jordan Agreement of 2000 was a fair and good agreement. Unfortunately, the Bush Administration has abandoned that successful format and pushed ahead with a trade policy that only looks at the bottom line, rather than the workers who produced the goods or the environment they live in and rely upon for sustainable growth.

We need to go back to the successful format that incorporates American values into our trade agreements. This would ensure that U.S. companies and employees are not forced to compete with countries that have no or weak labor laws, poor working conditions, and a willingness to debase the environment for the short term. The people of all countries lose in such a ``race to the bottom''.

Mr. Speaker, I cannot support OFTA or other flawed trade agreements.

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