By  on May 18, 2007

WASHINGTON — Five senators, signaling their dissatisfaction with a compromise trade policy agreement, said they would push the Bush administration to include more accountability and stronger enforcement mechanisms in pending and future deals.

The group is seeking benchmarks to measure the success of trade agreements based on the net creation of U.S. jobs, a net improvement of U.S. wages and significant increases in market access to foreign countries, said one of the senators, Byron Dorgan (D., N.D.) If the benchmarks were not met in any five-year period, Congress would be able to vote on a resolution directing President Bush to terminate a trade pact.

"Trade agreements that make sense are trade agreements that are mutually beneficial," Dorgan said Thursday during a news conference in the Capitol. "If they are not mutually beneficial, then at least from our perspective, from our national perspective, we need to be prepared to say, 'Let's get rid of that trade agreement and redo it, renegotiate it.'"

The senators said they will seek a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Susan Schwab to gain support for the new criteria, which are essentially standards that U.S. trading partners would be required to meet.

Sen. Bob Casey (D., Pa.) said the administration has "a terrible track record of enforcement, so any agreement that is hammered out in this building with the administration has to be one that is very tough on enforcement. Whether it beefs up government agencies — putting teeth into agencies and oversight — is going to be critically important."

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D., Ohio), Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) and Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) are other members of the group.

The senators said they were not included in the negotiations led by House Ways and Means chairman Charles Rangel (D., N.Y.), Schwab and Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson Jr. that led to a compromise trade policy deal last week between Congress and the administration. That accord is intended to strengthen labor and environmental provisions in pending trade pacts with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea. It would bar practices such as forced and child labor and uphold the right to collective bargaining. Democrats have said deals with Panama and Peru would be considered first because the accords with South Korea and Colombia face several unresolved issues."Our [free trade agreements] and obligations and this administration's record on enforcement is excellent," a spokeswoman for the U.S. Trade Representative's office said in a statement. "As a result of opening markets, U.S. exports are growing twice as fast with FTA partners than other countries."

The spokeswoman said the compromise reached last week provides for "changes to the FTAs [that] will be legally binding and enforceable."

Rangel faces discord from several Democratic members in his own caucus, and opposition from House and Senate Democrats creates uncertainty over the trade agenda.

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