Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on the 2019 Trade Policy Agenda
(As prepared for delivery)
Good morning. Today we welcome Ambassador Robert E. Lighthizer, United States Trade Representative to discuss the 2019 Trade Policy Agenda, including negotiations with China, Japan, the EU, and UK; the new NAFTA/USMCA; and U.S. Participation in the WTO.
Ambassador Lighthizer, I am pleased to welcome you back before the Ways and Means Committee after our hearing on China trade at the end of February.
We have been eager to consult with you on all the various aspects of the President’s Trade Policy Agenda, and it has taken a while to get this hearing on the books. I am confident in the value of today’s discussion to the Members of this Committee, our constituents, and the American public.
Committee Democrats are already deeply engaged with you on the new NAFTA. This hearing today allows us to further that engagement. I commit to you in this public forum, as I have in private for the past many months, to continue working with you on the NAFTA in good faith, based on facts and on a desire to make responsible policy.
The opportunity we have right now to improve the NAFTA is too important not to get right. We have a chance to set the American economy and American workers on a better course. We can ensure that labor standards are raised through this agreement, that protections for the environment are respected, and that affordable access to medicines is preserved – now and in the future. All of this is too important to rush.
I’m not the only person making this point – it is consistent with what we have heard from AFL-CIO President Rich Trumka in his townhall tour of the rust belt, from the Business Roundtable, and even from Sen. Grassley yesterday.
I would like you to commit to continuing our productive discussions in good faith as well. I believe - from working with you these past two years - that we have a lot in common, and that as long as we all want to get to yes, we will get there.
With respect to the larger trade agenda, over the past year, we have seen a lot of activity on trade from the Administration:
You have renegotiated the NAFTA and the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement.
You have initiated trade negotiations with China, Japan, the EU, and the UK.
You have announced a desire to negotiate a free trade agreement with a sub-Saharan African country. We are also hearing interest from Switzerland and the Republic of Georgia in bilateral trade agreements with the United States.
You have won WTO disputes and are seeking to negotiate reform outcomes.
The Administration has also imposed waves of tariffs under section 301 on China and under section 232 on steel and aluminum from nearly all sources.
Recently, the Administration also threatened to impose 5 percent tariffs on Mexico in order to secure immigration-related commitments from Mexico. I remain extremely concerned that these threats continue to be dangled over Mexico. As I said over a week ago, commandeering U.S. trade policy to influence border security is an abuse of power and something that I will not support.
While I commend you for trying to tackle some difficult and long-standing trade issues, particularly with China, any gains made with respect to your trade agenda will be eroded if the Administration continues to use existing tariff authority in this manner.
More importantly, I think the Administration needs to think broadly and be honest about how its policies impact American workers. We see a lot of effort by the Administration to leverage trade policies and trade tools in the name of America’s workers. And we are supportive of your efforts to secure meaningful and structural change from China to level the playing field in trade and investment.
But at the same time, we see tax policies, education policies, worker and family support policies, labor policies, and border policies that undercut the interests of America’s workers and make life more difficult for middle class families.
This Committee and my staff stand ready to work with you and your team to advance U.S. trade policy for the benefit of all Americans.
And with that I will recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Brady for an opening statement.