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Washington Outlook Archive

Congressmen Seek Major Changes In Trade Policies

James A. Morrissey, Washington Correspondent

A high-powered group of members of the House of Representatives has introduced legislation calling for sweeping changes in US trade policies including renegotiation of the North America Free Trade Agreement and other existing free trade agreements (FTAs). The bill's 106 initial sponsors include nine committee and 45 subcommittee chairmen and members of the Democratic Caucus; Republican Caucus; "Blue Dog" Democratic coalition; and Hispanic, Black, Populist and Progressive Caucuses. Its supporters include some 25 labor union and other organizations, including the American Manufacturing Trade Action Coalition, which represents some textile companies.

The bill, known as the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act, directs the Government Accountability Office to conduct a comprehensive review of the major trade pacts that have served as a model on which US trade agreements have been based before any new agreements can be negotiated or ratified. It calls for a number of key provisions dealing with such things as national security, product safety, human rights, and social and environmental considerations to be included in all trade pacts. It also addresses issues such as currency manipulation, Buy American and sweat shops. The bill calls on the president to submit a plan to address through negotiations what the bill's sponsors say are gaps in current trade agreements. This, in effect, would require renegotiation of the Colombia, Panama and South Korea  FTAs, which were approved by the Bush administration but are awaiting ratification by Congress.  It would create a special congressional super committee headed up by the  House Ways and Means and the Senate Finance Committee chairmen, and membership would include the leaders of other committees whose jurisdiction is affected by trade agreements.

The legislation calls for elimination of what it calls  the "undemocratic fast track" process whereby an administration can negotiate a trade agreement which then must be voted up or down by Congress without any opportunity for amendments. The legislation would replace fast track with a new process that would give Congress more power to set out mandatory negotiating objectives for future trade agreements, and Congress would have to certify that its goals have been met before an agreement can be signed.

As the legislation was introduced, Rep. Mike Michaud, D-Maine, chairman of the House Trade Working Group, said: "We all know that we live in a globalized world, but we need to ensure trade is fair for our workers and economy. The trade act shows what we are for in future trade agreements and paves the way on how to fix our existing agreements."

June 30, 2009