I strongly oppose H.R. 1886, in particular, language inserted at the Rules Committee to create a new but poorly designed trade preference program for Afghanistan and Pakistan. While I would support a well-designed program to create jobs and spur economic development, this legislation is deeply flawed.
First, it brings virtually no economic benefit because the product mix is stingy – an economic fig leaf that should fool no one.
My second objection is even more fundamental. While the bill is light on commercial benefits, it is heavy on intrusive, impractical labor requirements that could exceed U.S. law. Now, I very much support improving labor conditions, but these new, unnecessarily onerous labor criteria would impede investment and won’t improve labor conditions.
Specifically, this legislation requires the Secretary of Labor to designate any entity to conduct firm-level inspections in Afghanistan and Pakistan to ensure compliance with “core labor standards” – even an NGO hostile to trade. This vague language subjects firms to arbitrary standards that could exceed U.S. law. Given the dire security situation there, having inspectors go from door to door, even cottage to cottage, to enforce such standards strains credibility.
Moreover, this standard exceeds the labor provisions in other preference programs and even our trade agreements negotiated under the bipartisan May 10 standard for FTAs appropriately lauded by the Speaker and Chairman Rangel. Indeed, it could be viewed as a precedent to justify the inclusion of similar language not only in new trade agreements but perhaps even in efforts to revise existing ones, which would, of course, apply to us as well, leaving the U.S. vulnerable to challenges that our labor laws don’t meet this standard.
I’m also concerned about the payfor. For every dollar of duty relief that ROZ exports from these countries receive, other Pakistani and Afghan exports have to pay at least that amount in increased fees, making these countries potentially worse off!
Lastly, I am disappointed today is my first opportunity to explain my concerns. This bill was not considered by the Ways & Means Committee. This is not the return to regular order we were promised by the Speaker, and I fear this is not the last time this month I will be on this Floor raising that concern. The provision also subverts the prerogatives out of the House by turning an aid bill into a revenue measure ripe for mischief on the other side of the Capitol.
Accordingly, I strongly oppose the legislation in its current form. I urge my colleagues to vote against the measure and yield back the balance of my time.