Search Form
First, enter a politician or zip code
Now, choose a category

Public Statements

United States-Korea Free Trade Agreement Implementation Act

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC


Mr. BROWN of Ohio. Mr. President, I would like to speak in opposition to these three pending free-trade agreements.

The bills look like they are about this size. These are the actual implementing of the three free-trade agreements. But one of the bills, and not the largest one--the one, in fact, of the three countries we are probably today passing trade agreements with, Colombia, South Korea, and Panama--the smallest by far in terms of its economy is Panama, and this is the trade agreement with Panama.

I remember all these conservative talk radio people saying: Have you read the bill? Have you read the bill? Have you read the bill? Every time it is a bill they don't agree with, they ask: Have you read the bill? This isn't just to eliminate the tariffs we have with the Republic of Panama. If these agreements were about eliminating tariffs with labor standards--and I know the Presiding Officer from Oregon shares that view about labor standards. If these agreements were about eliminating tariffs and labor standards, they would be about this big. They wouldn't be anything like this. But these are chock-full of special interest deals. It is what this body always does: the North American Free Trade Agreement with Canada and Mexico; the PNTR with China, a different kind of situation but leading to even more problems; the Central American Free Trade Agreement with six countries in Central America and the Dominican Republic. Rules that help the drug companies, rules that help the insurance companies, special interest provisions that help the banks, special interest provisions that undermine public health and undermine safely, that is what these free-trade agreements are about.

I get it. I get it that this is greased. I get it that this will pass with overwhelming numbers. I get it that this White House is only this much better than the last White House in pushing for these trade agreements. These are Bush trade agreements, Korea, Colombia, and Panama. President Obama inherited them, but he doesn't get off the hook because he has improved these slightly. We have a little bit of an improvement with Korea so a few more American cars can be sold into Korea, nothing like the number of Korean cars that can be sold in the United States because we didn't want to be that tough when we negotiated, so we just make slight changes. This President made slight changes, and I have seen this. I was in the House for 14 years, and in my first term in the Senate I have seen this kind of game played by administration after administration. This is technically my fourth administration I have worked with, third at some length, and I have seen this over and over and over again.

When I hear of these trade agreements coming forward, every President says this is going to create tens of thousands of jobs. NAFTA was going to create 200,000 jobs, almost immediately, the first Bush administration said. The Clinton administration said: Yes; that is right. It is going to create more or less 200,000 jobs immediately. Do you know what it has created? It has created a loss of 600,000 jobs under the North American Free Trade Agreement. We gain some jobs; we lose some jobs, but the net is always lost jobs.

How many times is an administration going to come forward and how many times are we going to believe them? Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me. This body continues, as the House of Representatives does--they are a little smarter in the House; they don't pass these with quite the same numbers in the overwhelming margins, but they continue to do the same thing over and over and over.

The American public doesn't like these trade agreements. The American public, in large numbers, under poll after poll after poll--the American people don't like NAFTA, don't like CAFTA, don't like PNTR with China. Why do you think last night, finally, this body stood--63 Members of the Senate, almost 20 of them Republicans, voted to finally stand up on currency and try to create a level playing field in our trade with China? But we don't do it on these other trade agreements. With the lobbying efforts on NAFTA, on CAFTA, on PNTR with China, on the Panama Trade Agreement, on the Colombia Trade Agreement, on the Korea Trade Agreement, the lobbying is overwhelming. Special interest groups line up because they are so excited about passing these free-trade agreements. In the end, we lose jobs every single time.

When I came to the Congress 20 years ago, we had a trade surplus with Mexico and, if I recall, a small trade deficit with Canada. That means we sold more to Mexico than we bought from them. We bought more from Canada than we sold to them. Today, it is tens of billions of dollars' trade deficit we have trilaterally with those two countries.

The China trade deficit 10 years ago, when China got into the World Trade Organization because we passed PNTR in part--that is part of the reason they got in--our trade deficit with China was something like $80 billion; today, it is almost $300 billion, more than three times the trade deficit with China. So our answer is, let's do more of it.

So China undercuts our manufacturing. NAFTA takes away American jobs. CAFTA costs us jobs. Yet the geniuses around here, the people--and the majority leader has been wonderful in this, opposing trade agreement after trade agreement because he gets it--the geniuses around this place, in the White House, in the House leadership, in some of the Senate leadership, Senate Republican leadership, and far too many of my colleagues on my side of the aisle, the geniuses around here are saying: Let's pass more trade agreements because it is working.

Give me one other issue where people in this body en masse, in huge numbers, say: This trade policy isn't working so let's try more of it. That is exactly what we have done. We continue to pass trade agreements that look a lot like NAFTA. We continue to pass trade agreements that get us in this situation that cost us jobs.

I am for more trade. Like most Americans, I want to see us trade more with other countries. But like most Americans, I have a problem with many of the rules that govern our trade policy because these aren't simple--eliminate tariffs. This is a trade policy that time after time favors corporate or investors' interests, and, in some cases, actually undermines our national security and undermines our national interests.

When we see the kind of job loss that NAFTA caused and CAFTA caused and PNTR caused, and these trade agreements with Panama and Korea and Colombia cause, we know this is not good for our national interests.

That is why I object to these trade agreements: They are more of the same broken promises, the same promises about: Oh, yes, it is going to create jobs. The same promise about: Oh, yes, it is going to expand our markets.

It may expand our markets a little bit, but it costs. We may sell some more, but we are buying a lot more from these other countries because the trade agreements simply aren't working.

Trade agreements are permanent. They often handcuff Congress and State legislatures from setting new priorities. North American Free Trade Agreement. I have heard Presidential candidates in campaigns say: Yes, they would work to renegotiate or even repeal NAFTA. Then they raise their right hand, get sworn in to be President of the United States, and they kind of forget they promised that.

These trade agreements undermine ``Buy American'' policy. How does that work? Because when we pass free-trade agreements, our FTAs, bilaterally or trilaterally with other countries, it doesn't give the same standing to our ``Buy American'' provisions. Do you think countries around the world don't have buy whatever their country is? You don't think the Chinese give special preference to ``Buy China''? You don't think other countries ever give special preference? But we couldn't do that here because that would mean we aren't practicing free trade.

Every country in the world practices trade according to their national interests. But what do we do in the United States of America? What do we do in the Senate? What do they do in the House? What do they do in the White House? They practice trade according to some economic textbook that was printed before these pages sitting in front of me were even born.

These trade agreements lack any meaningful way to withdraw if the promised benefits don't materialize. We

passed these trade agreements in Ohio communities from Springfield to Chillicothe to Portsmouth to Ashtabula to Toledo. These Ohio communities can't understand why they are so buffeted by these trade winds that so often undermine their ability to make a living.

These trade agreements were originally negotiated by the Bush administration. I don't blame President Obama for that. But to the rest of the country, hearing the Obama administration talk about these trade agreements sounds like a continuation of the incoherent approach to America's engagement in the global economy that we saw with the Bush trade agenda.

Many of us on this floor have criticized the Bush trade policy. The Obama trade policy--I am a Democrat, he is a Democrat. The Obama trade policy is better than it was under the Bush trade agreement. The Obama administration has made these three trade bills a little better--at least Korea a little better than it was--a little better. The Obama administration has actually enforced trade laws when the Chinese cheat on tires, when they cheat on oil country tubular steel, when they cheat on glass, when they cheat on aluminum, when they cheat--not on glass; when they cheat on paper. We have made some progress.

There is a new steel mill in the Mahoning Valley in Youngstown, in large part, because President Obama enforced trade rules, trade laws with the Commission Department of the International Trade Commission. It is interesting, though. When the President went to Youngstown to talk about the opening of the steel mill, he talked about the Recovery Act, and the Recovery Act put some dollars and infrastructure around the steel mill, but he neglected to talk about trade policy, which he had enforced for these agreements. That is all behind us.

But these trade policies ignore the elephant in the room, which is our trade relationship with China. Last night, as I said, the Senate did the right thing on a strong bipartisan vote on Chinese currency. But, unfortunately, some of the opponents of cracking down--unfortunately, I guess. Opponents of cracking down on China's currency manipulation are the same supporters of these trade agreements and, on both issues, respectfully, they miss the point. People have heard the same promises from NAFTA and CAFTA and China PNTR: Businesses promise more jobs from increased exports. Yet no one talks about the increased imports that pale in comparison.

So when I used to hear President Bush, Jr.'s predecessor, Bill Clinton, always talk about look how NAFTA and these agreements are increasing exports, well, they do increase exports, but they increase imports so much faster. It was President Bush, first, who said some years ago that for every billion dollars of trade, either surplus or deficit, it translated into 13,000 jobs. I don't know if that number is exactly correct--it probably is a little less than that now with inflation what a job is worth in dollars. But if $1 billion in trade surplus creates 13,000 jobs, that means $1 billion in trade deficits costs us 13,000 jobs.

So when I hear people say: Oh, these trade agreements, they are increasing exports, we have to tell the whole story.

It is akin to a sports reporter on the 11 o'clock news reading the baseball scores and saying: The Yankees scored seven runs tonight. That means maybe they won? Well, it turns out the Indians scored nine so the Yankees lost, which is a good outcome. But the fact is, when we are talking about trade, we don't just brag about exports. We have to look at what the value of the imports was too.

We are not talking about that. No one likes to talk about the communities that are left cleaning up after a plant is abandoned, moved to somewhere else. No one likes to talk about the families who are devastated when the plant closes and they lose their jobs. Nobody wants to talk about what happens to our national security when a steel mill closes and the jobs go elsewhere.

To keep up, each month the economy must add 150,000 new jobs, just to keep up with population growth. There are 14 million who are unemployed and another 15 million who are underemployed or who have stopped searching for work. What do Korea, Colombia, and Panama trade agreements have to do with that? We did a great thing last night by standing up to China on currency, but then we are giving it away with trade agreements such as these that cost us jobs rather than increase jobs. I do not get it. A good week? It was not such a good week for international trade and for us creating jobs in this country.

Most people, when they think about trade, think about goods and tariffs, but these agreements are not just about tariffs. If they were just about tariffs, as I said, these agreements would be relatively short, a simple declaration of tariff rates. Instead, as I said, these agreements are hundreds of pages on procurement rules and financial services and investor-state dispute resolution. What does that mean? What it means is a whole lot of corporate lobbyists lobbied the administration--the Finance Committee, the Ways and Means Committee, the Senate and House committees that work on these things--and struck gold. It means these corporate lobbyists had their way in Washington again, that these corporate lobbyists never lose on these trade agreements. In the end, they almost always get their way, but it so much and in so many ways undermines our public interest and certainly undermines jobs.

These are complex agreements. They do not have to be that complex. But then some of my colleagues say we are falling behind when Brazil and Korea and the European Union sign trade deals. What they do not say is that these are not the same kinds of agreements. If they were just about lowering tariffs in a reciprocal way--but they are not--if they were not the United States giving away the store for a little access, if they were just about tariffs, as I said earlier, and strong labor standards, we probably would have had a voice vote and passed them already. But these are not the same deals Brazil or the European Union signs with Korea. Let me explain that for a moment.

The European Union-Korea agreement does not have investor-state dispute resolution. Most countries have strong legal systems, and the EU and Korean negotiators decided they did not need to create a new privileged process under the trade deal to resolve disputes. In other words, if Korea has a food safety rule and the European Union has a food safety rule, they do not have to come into conflict because they do not have this dispute resolution that we do in our agreements. Then what happens when it is food safety or product safety? Do you know what happens? The country with the weaker rules wins.

What these trade agreements with the investor-state provisions--something the Europeans and Brazilians didn't do with Korea--with these provisions, it means we are weakening food safety laws, weakening consumer protection laws, weakening the kind of sovereignty that I thought people--particularly conservatives in this body--cared about.

When an investor can challenge a law in Korea or the United States under the special privilege process, outside the normal legal system, it can have the effect of chilling nondiscriminatory safety rules. But having a special privilege system outside the normal legal process is exactly what some companies want in these trade deals. In other words, if a company in the United States cannot find a way--if they are unsuccessful at lobbying the Senate, the House of Representatives, and the President, unsuccessful in weakening consumer protection measures or undermining a food safety rule, if they have been unsuccessful doing that directly here, through these trade agreements they are able to do that.

If Panama has weaker rules on investor protections, has weaker rules on financial consumer protection, weaker rules on food safety laws, then, through these trade agreements, it gives these corporate interests a back door to weaken our safety rules.

We fight like crazy around here to have strong consumer protections, to have safe pharmaceutical rules, to have good, strong pharmaceutical safety rules. We fight for those things, but then we are going to allow these trade agreements to undermine that.

These agreements affect investment dynamics and corporate decisionmaking. They affect how a company makes decisions in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, so these are important long term for these companies. Yet Congress has a few hours to debate these and vote up or down, with no amendments. These agreements are permanent. They affect the flow of goods and services on a permanent basis across the world for decades to come. These agreements are hundreds of pages, and here we are fitting them into the workweek, voting them up or down. The vote tonight is at 6:30.

I don't hear Rush Limbaugh, I don't hear the Washington Post, I don't hear others--conservatives on the other side of the aisle say: I can't believe you are jamming this through so fast, which is what they said on health care, which took months and months. They jammed this through in 48 hours, but that is OK because it is a trade agreement, even though it is this long and nobody has read it. I am almost sure that there is not one Senator out of 100 and maybe none in the 435 in the House of Representatives who actually read this bill. And this is the least consequential. This is the Panama trade agreement. This is not Korea, which is much bigger. This is not Colombia, which is significantly bigger. Yet we decided it is OK to fit this because fast track--the way we do trade agreements--has a whole special set of rules.

In my mind, nothing I know of in this body has this special set of rules that trade agreements get. They have to be debated quickly. There is a time limit once they are sent up by the President. There is no hold allowed on a trade agreement. There is no filibuster allowed on a trade agreement. There is no 60-vote threshold. There is a 60-vote threshold on confirming a Federal judge out of Toledo, OH. There is a 60-vote threshold on an Under Secretary of Interior. There is no 60-vote threshold on an agreement of hundreds of pages that will last forever with the Republic of Panama or Colombia or Korea, no 60-vote

requirement, no hold, none of the rules of the Senate that might slow this down. Do you know why? Because these are chock-full of special interest provisions that every insurance company and drug company and bank can get their way and get this in permanent law. No scandal there, not with that. We will do it on every other bill but not trade agreements.

Two things, and then I want to close with a story.

Think about what fast-track authority does. I want to pursue that with a little more detail, about how we have these special rules in the Senate only for trade agreements, for nothing else.

First of all, with fast-track authority, in addition to having rules in the Senate that are very different from other rules in order that these pass quickly, we also delegate authority to the executive branch--something we normally don't do. We allow the executive branch to set the substance of the negotiations. The executive branch is only required to notify Congress 90 days before signing the agreement. The executive branch writes the implementing legislation for each trade pact without the committees of jurisdiction having actual markups. In other words, it circumvents the normal committee process. Once the executive branch has submitted the bill, we have to vote for the implementing bill within 90 days. The votes in both Chambers are highly privileged. Normal congressional floor procedures are waived, including unanimous consent. Debates are limited, and no amendments are allowed. The result is that Congress is given little time. In the present case, the Senate has 4 hours to debate each agreement.

I am amazed. I mean, where are the conservatives in this country who said: Don't give Barack Obama so much power. You just did when you passed this. Why? Because it is a trade agreement. The rules are always different. Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader, said his No. 1 goal in 2011 and 2012 is to make sure Barack Obama is a one-term President. We don't want to give him any power, we want to criticize him on everything--except, Mr. President, we would like to give you this, and you do whatever you want on these special trade agreements. Just the hypocrisy here on trade is beyond belief.

Let me close with what I think may tell the story of the importance of how we practice trade around the world. Some years ago, I flew into South Texas at my own expense, rented a car, and with two friends crossed the Texas-Mexican border just to follow up on what had happened with NAFTA. This was the mid- to late 1990s. I wanted to see how NAFTA was working out for the United States and Mexico along the border where there were so many manufacturing plants.

Right near the border, there was an auto plant, a GM plant. This GM plant looked just like a General Motors plant, not much different from Lordstown near Youngstown, not much different from the GM plant in my hometown of Mansfield, which unfortunately is now closed, not much different from any other auto plant. It was modern, the floors were clean, great technology. But there was one difference between the two plants, one major difference: The GM plant in Mexico didn't have a parking lot because the workers were not paid enough to buy the cars they made. That may tell you something.

I didn't do this, but go around the world, and in Malaysia, in the Motorola plant, the workers didn't get paid enough to buy a lot of the Motorola electronics they made. Then go back to Central America and go to Costa Rica, and the workers in the Costa Rica Disney plant were not making enough to buy the toys for their children that they made. Go to China, go almost anywhere in the world in these developing countries where we either have trade agreements or where our trade policy has such impact, where companies in the United States shut down--never in world history have companies in one country, to the degree they do here--they shut down in the United States and move to China, move to Mexico, move to Malaysia, move to Indonesia, and then they sell their products back to the United States.

How do you build a country's wealth when you do that? And the reason they do is because these workers in Mexico who are building cars, in Malaysia making electronic equipment, in Costa Rica making Disney toys--these workers don't share in the wealth they create. They are not making enough from the jobs they do to buy the things they make.

The beauty of our system and what has made the United States a prosperous country with a strong middle class is--partly because of unions, partly because of democracy--is our workers typically earn enough that they can buy the products they make. In other words, if the workers are creating wealth for the company, for their bosses, they get paid enough, they can extract enough of that wealth that they can have a decent standard of living. Not in Mexico, China, Malaysia, or many of these countries that are part of this free-trade regimen.

Let me take you to one more place on this little tour around the world. Let me take you to a midwestern meatpacking plant. Most of these meatpacking plants were union plants. They had very little turnover. Workers were making very good wages, and they were safe, by and large, because the workers had demanded safety and the U.S. Government had enforced it.

Well, what has happened in the last 10 or 15 years in these meatpacking plants is the union has been busted. Many of the workers are immigrants. They are immigrants who--probably some of them are not legal, but certainly these immigrants who are there are not about to form a union. They do not speak English, sometimes, very well. They are not so certain they are going to be able to stay in this country. They are just not going to speak out. They are hardly ever going to talk back to their boss and will never form a union.

Here is what happened. It used to be in those plants--pardon me if my numbers are not precise here because it has been a while since I thought about this--it used to be in these meatpacking plants that the workers would stand there, they would have the vinyl aprons and a sharp knife because they were processing beef, and the carcasses would be hung on the big hooks, and the carcasses would slowly go by, about 150 an hour, something like that.

So these workers would be standing there and they would make their cut as the carcasses went by slowly, 150 an hour. After they busted the union, they sped up the line. When it is 150 an hour, that is about the right speed for them to do this work. They almost doubled the speed of the carcasses as they went by, and two things happened: Workers had to hurry, so they were more likely to hurt themselves because they would aim the knife, and because it was moving fast, they might end up glancing off the bone and cutting their leg. The other thing that would happen is workers were much more likely to drop their knives, quickly pick them up, wipe them on their apron, and go back to work. Here is the interesting thing. The line had sped up to 300, more or less, an hour. On Thursdays they slowed the line back. Do my colleagues know why? Because Thursday was the day these meatpacking companies were shipping those carcasses, that processed meat, to Europe, and Europe has higher food safety standards than the United States does. So if these workers could work fast, and if they dropped the knife and wiped it off, the meat might get a little contaminated. That is OK for U.S. food safety standards, but the Europeans, who had higher food safety standards, said, We are not buying your beef unless you slow the line down and make it safer.

That is what globalization would be. It is not just workers in Mexico who can't buy the cars; it is not just Motorola workers in Malaysia or Disney workers in Costa Rica who can't buy the products they make; it also undermines our food safety and drug safety and consumer protection.

These agreements are not trade agreements. They are special interest laws that never see the light of day because of the peculiar rules of the Senate.

We should be ashamed of ourselves for passing these agreements, period, and especially passing them under these provisions. I hope the administration learns something from this. I hope the administration decides, on these trade agreements, instead of being on the side of the largest corporations in the country and in the world, which don't always look out for American interests--I hope the administration and the Members of the House and Senate will decide they want to be on the side of American families, of American communities, of American workers, of American small companies that make goods and want to sell all over the world.

I yield the floor and I suggest the absence of a quorum.


Mr. BROWN of Ohio. I rise to speak against this agreement. This, my friends, is the Panama trade agreement. There are 1,600 pages. If we want to get rid of tariffs and level the playing field, we would pass about three pages of tariff schedules and build in labor rights so that all of us would pass this by a voice vote.

This is 1,600 pages of rules to help insurance companies, to help drug companies, to undercut America's sovereignty. It is based on the same NAFTA trade model that doesn't work with investor-state relations. The same promises we hear in every trade agreement--the Clinton administration and the first Bush administration promised 200,000-plus jobs for NAFTA. We lost 600,000 jobs.

Vote no on Panama. It is more of the same. It doesn't work for America and small businesses, and it doesn't work for our workers.

I ask for a ``no'' vote.


Mr. BROWN of Ohio. Mr. President, this is the same story. This is Panama's agreement, but Colombia's is even longer--hundreds and hundreds of pages of rules.

I admire the Colombian people. They are our allies, but the Colombian Government not so much. Colombia remains the most dangerous place in the world to be a trade unionist. There were 23 trade unionists killed in 2011, and 51 were killed in 2010. What is happening to them is working. Over the past 20 years, unionization rates in Colombia have been cut in half.

When you threaten trade unionists, when you actually murder them, of course, unionization rates are going to go down. The Labor Action Plan commits the Colombian Government to get better, but what we are doing by a ``yes'' vote is rewarding promises, as we always do in trade agreements. But we are doing nothing to establish and enforce concrete results.

If you care about human rights, if you care about workers having the ability to freely organize and collectively bargain, you will vote no on the Colombian trade agreement.


Skip to top

Help us stay free for all your Fellow Americans

Just $5 from everyone reading this would do it.

Back to top