Neal Opening Statement at Hearing on the 2020 Trade Policy Agenda

Jun 17, 2020
Press Release

(As prepared for delivery)

I would like to welcome U.S. Trade Ambassador Robert Lighthizer to discuss important trade issues that impact the health and economic opportunity of all Americans during these challenging times.

Last year, Committee Democrats worked tirelessly with you to improve the USMCA and create a successful model for good trade policy that strengthens our economy and meaningfully benefits workers.  

We are very proud of the new high water mark we established in the USMCA, particularly the closing of loopholes in the NAFTA state-to-state enforcement mechanism.  The new USMCA has a system now that will allow all the obligations in the USMCA – on agriculture, on e-commerce, on customs rules, and yes on labor and environment – to be enforced.

We – my Democratic colleagues and I – are looking to you to ensure rigorous enforcement.  I was pleased to read your recent writings in which you promoted the core labor standards and labor-specific enforcement mechanism that we fought so hard to include. We are eager to see evidence that you and the current administration will implement and enforce those and similar provisions to the fullest extent.  

As we approach USMCA’s Entry into Force, we face historic challenges – some expected and others unanticipated. 

The COVID-19 pandemic thrust to the forefront flaws in our national health and economic systems that disproportionately affect the most vulnerable communities and workers inside the United States and across North America. 

How the United States addresses these issues will impact the lives of millions of people. The USMCA provides important opportunities to reduce the pandemic’s negative effects, but only with effective and strategic enforcement and implementation. 

Similarly, we also face the historic challenge of reversing the continued deterioration of basic labor rights for workers south of our border – and therefore, for our own workers. 

In the USMCA we achieved the most robust labor enforcement mechanism seen in any U.S. trade agreement to-date. 

I hope you agree that the success of the whole agreement depends heavily on this badly-needed tool to help raise labor standards and prevent systemic and egregious violations of worker and human rights. 

We are aware that serious deficiencies exist in the current implementation of legislative reforms in Mexico, and they threaten to preemptively undermine the successful model we worked so hard to build with the revised USMCA. 

Specifically, the failure of the current collective bargaining agreement legitimation process to deter undue influence and interference by employer-protection unions jeopardizes Mexico’s ability to raise labor standards.  This only serves to further chill the rights of millions of workers in Mexico, and it also undermines the rights of American workers.

Last week, AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka echoed these concerns. The Mexican legislative reforms are the foundation of building effective labor rights enforcement and they require our urgent attention. 

Similarly, we need to hold our own companies accountable as well. Reports emerge nearly daily of American companies pressuring their factories in Mexico to keep operating or to reopen, without taking into account health and safety protections for their workers.  Some of these companies are the same ones that shuttered their operations and laid off workers in communities here in the United States.  

We engaged over the last year in good faith, relying on facts and evidence, to negotiate the USMCA. Mr. Ambassador, we will apply the same vigor to ensuring the enforcement of this trade deal as we did in negotiating it.  

With respect to the larger trade agenda, the Administration has been very active over the past year:  

The Administration negotiated preliminary agreements with China and Japan that both await more comprehensive and meaningful follow up.

The Administration is negotiating or preparing to negotiate trade agreements with the UK and Kenya. Maybe the on-again, off-again discussions with the EU will come back to life – though that looks doubtful.  

The Administration is also reportedly engaging in limited negotiations with Brazil, and may consider limited digital trade negotiations with Brazil and other trading partners. You should know that many of my colleagues were unhappy with the Administration’s lack of coordination and consultation on the limited agreements with Japan last year.

The Administration is very proud of its record of muscular enforcement, especially with China. Yet it has not raised labor issues, including the forced labor in Uyghur concentration camps, with China or taken a single action on pending petitions under our FTAs alleging labor violations in Colombia, Peru, Honduras, or the Dominican Republic.

The Administration often leverages trade policies and trade tools in the name of America’s worker. Yet we see little actual enforcement of cases, and several labor rights cases continue to languish without results. 

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 continues to stand ready to advance U.S. trade policy for the benefit of all Americans. Our work on USMCA was an important first step. But much work remains to be done.

And with that I will recognize the ranking member, Mr. Brady, for the purposes of an opening statement. 

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