Blumenauer Opening Statement at Trade Subcommittee Hearing on Trade and Labor: Creating and Enforcing Rules to Benefit American Workers

Mar 26, 2019
Press Release

(As prepared for delivery)

Good morning, and welcome to our witnesses and audience members. Thank you for being here. 

Today’s hearing—the first hearing of this Congress for our subcommittee—marks a shift from what has become business as usual. Trade conjures up a wide array of divisive issues. It is my desire to work through these issues in a thoughtful and conscientious manner. Over the years, I have worked closely with members on both sides of the aisle and across the political spectrum. Despite their political differences, many share similar concerns. Done right, I’m convinced we can meet the legitimate needs of the American people in a way that goes beyond the cartoon arguments that too often dominate these conversations.
Today, we will highlight with our panel some views that have not had the opportunity to come before our committee during the past eight years. Our witnesses represent an array of American unions that represent the workers who have been profoundly affected by U.S. trade policy, from those who work in manufacturing to those who provide critical social services.
Our serial failure to adequately enforce trade agreements in the past has weakened confidence in the promises made in our agreements. I share these concerns. Our agreements should strive to improve standards, not be a race to the bottom. I was part of the negotiation of the May 10th agreement that required binding labor and environmental protections in our trade agreements, something that NAFTA sadly failed to include. It is the responsibility of this committee to advance those goals.
I look forward to hearing from our witnesses about where our trade agreements have worked, where they have fallen short, and how they can be improved.
Since 1998, there were 39 submissions alleging non-compliance with NAFTA Labor Obligations, not a single case led to a formal arbitration or any penalty. I welcome attention to the troubling example of the US-Guatemala labor case.  American labor unions should not have to use their limited resources to make the case for entering into dispute settlement with another country.  It shouldn’t take years to bring a case against a country that allows for the intimation, harassment and murder of labor leaders.  After the US finally brought a case, the three-arbitrator panel ruled against us.  How will the New NAFTA agreement be different? Is the labor chapter strong enough? Should we have confidence in the enforcement provisions? I doubt we get complete answers to these questions today, but this is a long overdue conversation that we must begin now. 
Environmental provisions in trade agreements are also a labor issue.  If countries have vastly different environmental standards, not only will our shared habitat suffer, businesses will be encouraged to export jobs.  Trade must not be a race-to-the-bottom on a planet is already facing significant challenges from climate change.
Public health provisions are also a priority. One of the most pressing issues of our time is the rising cost of health care. Trade agreements should not make it more difficult for Congress to enact good public policy. A revised NAFTA enacted without addressing access to medicine, will make it more difficult to reduce the cost of medicine for all Americans.
New tools like the Trade Enforcement Trust Fund are promising, if funded, but is no substitute for better protections in the base text of our trade agreements. How can the Fund’s provisions be strengthened to ensure that it adequately supports our trade enforcement agenda?
Trade policy is at a crossroads. It is hard to imagine a policy space that has shifted so profoundly, perhaps reflecting that America itself is at a crossroads. For all the changes in markets, products and technology, we still must face some hard realities. The typical American family today has a lower net worth than the typical family did 20 years ago. Life expectancy, shockingly, has fallen this decade. Whatever the reasons, trade is part of the equation. With stronger rules and stronger enforcement, trade can also be part of the solution.
We welcome your analysis about what your members need in our nation’s trade and economic policies, as well as any thoughts about the renegotiated NAFTA, to provide them with confidence that the American Dream is within reach.

And with that I will recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Buchanan for an opening statement.