Lawmaker rejects USTR proposal on trade pacts
5 March 2007
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A Bush administration proposal aimed at winning Democratic party support for free trade agreements with Peru, Colombia and Panama falls short of what is needed to strengthen the labor provisions of those pacts, a Democratic lawmaker said on Monday.
"Time is short and key issues cannot be finessed," Rep. Sander Levin, a Michigan Democrat, said in the prepared text of a speech on how to use trade as a tool to shape globalization.
"Failure to revise these three FTAs (free trade agreements) to directly incorporate the ILO (International Labor Organization) core labor standards with enforcement and (a) reasonable transition will not only be a ticket to their defeat in Congress, but a missed opportunity," Levin said.
Levin is chairman of a trade subcommittee in the U.S. House of Representatives that will play an important role in congressional consideration of the agreements.
Democrats have criticized the free trade pacts with Colombia and Peru for not containing an enforceable commitment to abide by core international labor standards — such as freedom to organize and bargain collectively.
The Bush administration finished negotiations with Panama after the Democrats won control of Congress in November, but left the labor chapter open in anticipation of the need to work out a new deal with lawmakers.
The Bush administration has proposed a solution that would require FTA partners to carry out ILO standards or have laws that are "equivalent" to U.S. labor laws, Levin said.
The proposal "misses the point as to the basic developments which need to occur in these nations" and shifts the focus from improving conditions for workers to a legalistic debate over whether a foreign country’s law are equivalent to those of the United States, Levin said.
President George W. Bush will visit Colombia as part of a trip to the region that begins later this week.
The U.S. Trade Representative’s office has hoped to reach a deal with Congress on how to reshape labor provisions of the trade pacts by the end of this month.