THE WASHINGTON TIMES | March 7, 2007
AFL-CIO aims to recast trade authority
By Steve Hirsch
The AFL-CIO yesterday announced its plans to defeat renewal of "trade promotion authority," which allows President Bush to submit trade agreements to Congress for an up-or-down vote without amendment.
Speaking to reporters from Las Vegas, where the labor organization’s executive council is holding its winter meeting, AFL-CIO officials outlined what they said was a plan to strengthen the role of Congress in setting trade policy.
"This is a serious fight, it’s not a casual clash, it will be a serious fight for the entire labor movement," AFL-CIO Secretary Treasurer Richard Trumka said.
The AFL-CIO will devote "very significant" resources to head off extension of the president’s authority, he said.
The Bush administration and many business organizations support extension of trade promotion authority, which expires June 30, as necessary for the completion of the World Trade Organization’s current round of talks and of bilateral free-trade agreements, such as pending pacts with Colombia, Panama, Peru, the United Arab Emirates and South Korea.
Labor unions and many Democrats blame current trade agreements negotiated under trade promotion authority, including the North American Free Trade Agreement negotiated under PresidentClinton, for the record U.S. trade deficit, which reached $764 billion last year.
In what AFL-CIO policy director Thea M. Lee stressed was not call for a revision of trade promotion authority, but a change in the relationship between Congress and the president on trade policy, the labor federation is calling for a review of current trade agreements before any new trade talks are started and a congressional role in choosing trade-agreement partners.
Congress, the resolution says, should lay out criteria to assess countries that are potential trade-agreement partners. Those criteria should include economic opportunities available for U.S. workers, firms and farmers, a country’s compliance with International Labor Organization standards, international environmental agreements, fundamental human rights and the presence of a democratic government.
Under such rules, the organization said, the U.S. would not have negotiated an agreement with Colombia, "whose government is responsible, by act or omission, for the deaths of thousands of trade unionists."
Rep. Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, is negotiating tougher labor protections for pending trade agreements with Peru, Panama and Colombia, a compromise that he says could lay the groundwork for the extension of Mr. Bush’s trade authority.
The AFL-CIO resolution also calls for the negotiating objectives that are set by Congress to be mandatory.
The current situation has yielded "terrible results" for labor in particular, according to the resolution, which said business objectives "jump to the top of the list and ours limp along in last place."
The mandatory negotiating objectives should at least address such issues as workers’ rights, environment, investment, intellectual property rights, services and immigration, the resolution says.
The organization said Congress must certify that an agreement has met all the mandatory objectives before it can be signed, otherwise it would be subject to amendment.
"We’re not interested in getting half a loaf on this one," Ms. Lee told reporters.
"We put forward what our proposal is and I think the message to Congress is going to be that this is what we’re looking for. Anything short of that we will oppose."
Sen. Byron L. Dorgan, North Dakota Democrat and chairman of the Senate Commerce trade subcommittee, said he will hold hearings this month "to examine whether treaties negotiated under fast-track authority have advanced America’s interest or simply corporate interests."
United Steelworkers President Leo Gerard said labor has been criticized in the past for rejecting policies without offering alternatives, but he said yesterday’s announcement is the AFL-CIO’s alternative to trade promotion authority.