Madame Speaker, let me be blunt: we should be and can be doing much more to advance our trade agenda and create much needed jobs for American workers. This year, America’s trade agenda has stalled, and it has had a chilling effect on our economy and on global commerce – in some cases even weakening our national security interests.
The delay in considering the Colombia Trade Promotion Agreement alone has cost U.S. exporters and their workers over $2.4 billion in unnecessary tariffs.
Last week, the President said there would be a renewed focus on trade next year. I welcome that commitment and stand ready to prepare our free trade agreements for Congressional consideration.
In the meantime, we still have valuable work to do. Although we aren’t dealing with any of our pending free trade agreements, today we are considering important trade programs that protect our own interests and help advance developing nations: extensions of the Generalized System of Preferences and the Andean Trade Preference Act.
Make no mistake: the legislation before us is far from perfect, but it is a chance to ensure the trade agenda does not slide further backward. By supporting this bill, we are sending a signal to the world that America is ready and willing to engage.
I am a strong supporter of our trade preference programs. These programs are vital, particularly as we struggle with the global recession and the collapse in international trade.
Allowing these preference programs to lapse would be a mistake that would encourage the rest of the world, which is already passing us by when it comes to new trade deals, to increase their lead on us. We cannot allow that to happen.
As I noted, this legislation should have been stronger. To provide greater certainty to American employers doing business in developing countries – something sorely needed in this economic climate – I would have preferred to see a two-year extension of that program instead of the one-year extension before us. But I think we will all agree that one-year extension is better than no extension.
I also would have preferred to see a continuation of the bipartisan provision in the current Andean Trade Promotion Act program that requires enhanced oversight over Ecuador’s compliance with the eligibility criteria. Unfortunately, this legislation fails to recognize the serious questions that surround Ecuador’s compliance with the eligibility criteria for this program.
The 2008 bipartisan extension of ATPA extended benefits for Ecuador but required the Administration to issue a report on Ecuador’s compliance with the eligibility criteria. This report, released on June 30th of this year by the Obama Administration, highlighted multiple concerns, which I share.
Specifically, the report raised questions about Ecuador’s compliance with its international investment obligations. The report raised concerns about Ecuador’s decision to increase certain import duties above their bound levels and to impose quotas on imports. None of these issues has been resolved. In fact, they’ve gotten worse.
Despite the failure by Ecuador to address the issues raised in the Obama Administration report, the Majority has inexplicably stripped out last year’s reporting requirement. For all the talk from the other side about enforcement and compliance, this legislation fails to address legitimate concerns our workers and employers face in Ecuador. While the legislation requires reporting for all the Andean countries, I am disappointed that the Majority has decided not to engage in specific oversight of a country clearly falling short of our expectations.
As 2009 comes to a close, there will be many retrospectives on the year. One focus ought to be on whether Washington advanced a pro-growth, pro-job trade agenda. The answer is clearly no.
We started the year with the passage of a new Trade Adjustment Assistance program, showing what can be achieved when there is a bipartisan, bicameral commitment. We should all be very proud of what we’ve done for workers who are trying to adjust to the global economy.
But until today, there has been absolutely NO positive movement on the trade agenda since TAA. While I am encouraged that the Majority decided to extend two trade preference programs, the failure to make this legislation as robust as it could have been shows the need to return next year to the sort of bipartisanship we saw on TAA. I urge the Majority to make that happen. I am committed to doing my part.
Madame Speaker, we owe the American people a better result. Today’s legislation gives us the first opportunity to build on the President’s words to us at the White House last week, in which he acknowledged the importance of trade in creating jobs, but it represents the bare minimum. I urge my colleagues to support a robust trade agenda that creates opportunities for American workers, and for that reason I support passage of this legislation.