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