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Opposing the Central American Free Trade Agreement

Location: Washington, DC

OPPOSING THE CENTRAL AMERICAN FREE TRADE AGREEMENT -- (House of Representatives - March 01, 2005)


Mr. PALLONE. Mr. Speaker, I thank the gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Brown) for all that he does on this trade issue and is constantly being out there pointing out the shortcomings of all these free trade agreements that this administration, the Bush administration, continues to put before the Congress.

I have to say, I just do not get it. I do not understand how this administration, the Bush administration, continues to push these free trade agreements when there is absolutely no question in my mind and I think most Americans minds that they have been a failure.

Our economy continues to be stagnant. We continue to have plants close. I use in my own district the Frigidaire plant in Edison, the Ford plant in Edison. I could go on and on with the plants that continue to close. We see the continual loss of jobs. We see unemployment at levels that are unacceptable. And there is absolutely no indication that this administration's policy with these continual free trade agreements is accomplishing anything for the people of this country.

The gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Brown) puts up the chart with the overall U.S. trade deficit which continues to grow worse and every day we see the trade deficit getting worse; and yet at the same time we see the administration coming forward with more of these free trade agreements, in this case for Central America.

I just have to say I just do not get it. I remember when NAFTA was first proposed going back a few years. The gentleman from Ohio (Mr. Brown) and I were both here at the time, and we at the time said over and over again that NAFTA was not acceptable, it was not going to do anything to improve the job situation and the economy of the United States, and it was not likely to do anything to improve the wages or the job conditions of Mexican workers, and that is still true.

Anyone who goes to Mexico knows that it has not improved the standard of living for Mexican workers, and at the same time, it has simply drained away valuable jobs from the United States.

This continues to be the case with every one of these agreements. They are not protective of labor and environmental standards. I do not know how many times the administration has come forth and said, well, there is not a problem here because we are going to protect workers in the countries that we would have the free trade agreements with; that we are going to have adequate environmental enforcement. It is simply not true.

I just have some information here that was put out relative to the International Labor Organization. It says, without exception, the national labor systems of the Central American countries fail to meet international standards on freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively.

The ILO, the International Labor Organization, the State Department and independent human rights observers have documented the following examples of the systematic failure to enforce labor laws throughout the Central American region.

Four points. First, delays and obstructions are common in Central American labor ministries. Second, labor ministries not only ignore violations, but are, themselves, complicit in violations of the law in most of these Central American countries. Collusion between labor ministry officials and employers to deny workers their right to organize is a problem. Finally, the judicial branch, the courts, are guilty of systematic enforcement failures in Central America.

We know that there is not going to be adequate protection with regard to labor in these countries. There is not going to be adequate protection in terms of environmental law and environmental standards, and yet we continue to move forward, and it makes absolutely no sense because the economy is stagnant, the trade deficit gets higher and the labor and environmental laws are not being enforced.

So, for the life of me, I do not understand how we continue with these. Again, I have never said that increasing free trade between the United States and other countries is, per se, a bad thing, but this administration has never negotiated, or I should say, rarely has negotiated any trade agreement that is helpful to the United States, and that is what we face here once again.

I do not support it. I hope we can get as many people as possible to understand that we cannot continue this downhill trend. I thank the gentleman from Ohio for all that he does on this subject.


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