Thank you, Chairman Levin.
Policymakers should have access to the views of stakeholders on all sides of trade issues. The critical question is: How best can we allow everyone to have a voice while still maintaining the effectiveness and flexibility of the information flow? I’m eager to hear testimony on this key point.
Without question, the private sector and the Administration coordinate extensively on trade. The President has the ACTPN, which includes representatives from labor, the environmental community, industry, agriculture, and small businesses. USTR has also created policy advisory committees to provide advice on cross-cutting social and economic issues, such as labor and environment. USTR, Commerce, and USDA also meet with the industry and agricultural “Trade Advisory Committees,” which provide technical, nuts-and-bolts advice on functional trade issues at the ground level.
This formal structure isn’t the only game in town, however. USTR also holds public hearings, seeks comments through Federal Register notices, and holds meetings with relevant sectors and non-governmental organizations. The Bush Administration did it, and the Obama Administration is doing it. The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement negotiation is a case in point, and USTR has been seeking comments not only from cleared advisors in the ITACs, but also from other noncommercial interests and the general public. The “Investment Working Group” that reports to the ITAC chairs is another example of effective, ad hoc information flow.
I am encouraged that more people want to be part of the advisory committee system. That tells me that the system must be performing reasonably well—folks don’t typically line up to jump on a sinking ship.
There is another side that is far less encouraging, and, sadly, it hits much closer to home. We in Congress have our own housekeeping to do when it comes to providing opportunities to Americans to share their views on trade policy. I note with more than a tinge of disappointment that on that score, we’re failing.
It is all supposed to start right here in this great Committee, which has jurisdiction over trade agreements, but we are, unfortunately, redefining the phrase “ground zero”:
- We have convened zero hearings in the 110th and 111th Congresses on our pending FTAs since they’ve been signed. Members on our side have asked for and would warmly welcome a hearing, for example, on how to identify “benchmarks” in Colombia. Members of the public would jump at the chance to testify here on that topic.
- We’ve held a grand total of zero hearings on our trade preference programs, a tool to promote the economies of our developing trading partners.
- Democrats have called zero meetings of the Congressional Oversight Group, a statutorily mandated group in which all Committees with jurisdiction communicate to the Administration what we’re hearing from our constituents—the people that put us here. The statute requires that the COG convene within 30 days of the beginning of a Congress. We haven’t done so this Congress, or last.
USTR needs to consult better with Congress too, so that we have the information we need to engage productively with the American people. It may not shock you that Republicans feel shut out of the formulation of the Administration’s trade policy. What may be more surprising, however, is that the frustration appears to be bipartisan. Max Baucus, Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, readily acknowledged at a recent hearing that he was not consulted on the Administration’s decision to have a time-out on trade until the articulation of a new “trade policy framework” and passage of healthcare reform in Congress. It was, in his words, “a shot out of the blue.” “Read about it in newspaper articles,” lamented the Montana Senator.
So while it is well and good to shine light on the advisory committee system to assess whether it is adequately performing its role, we must at the same time grade ourselves. We need to review our own performance on how well we’re obtaining public input on trade. Let me be clear: I’m not talking about passing FTAs. I’m just asking whether we’re doing enough here in this Committee and in Congress to open up a dialogue with the American people on pending and future trade initiatives. This hearing is a good start, Mr. Chairman, but there is much, much more we can be doing.
Thank you, I yield back.