WASHINGTON — The AFL-CIO doesn’t want to be left out of the loop when it comes to helping formulate the Bush administration’s trade policies.
In a lawsuit filed against President Bush and U.S. Trade Representative Robert Zoellick in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia on Friday, the AFL-CIO requested a court order directing the USTR and White House to include labor, environmental and conservation representatives on a key, high-level trade committee.
Last week, the Bush administration announced the nominations of 32 people to serve on the Advisory Committee on Trade Policy and Negotiations, which provides the USTR office with policy advice on objectives and bargaining positions before entering into trade negotiations.
The list, which included one textile and three apparel executives, omitted labor, environmental and consumer representatives.
According to the lawsuit, the Bush administration violated the statute establishing the ACTPN, which requires that the committee be comprised of representatives from non-federal governments; labor; industry; agriculture; small business; service industries; retailers; non-governmental environmental and conservation organizations, and consumer interests.
Edward Emma, president and chief executive officer of Jockey International; Grace Nichols, president and ceo of Victoria’s Secret Stores; Walter Bernard "Duffy" Hickey Jr., chairman of Hickey Freeman Co., and Larry Liebenow, president and ceo of Quaker Fabric, were among the 32 appointed to the committee.
"With these nominations, the Bush White House demonstrated a remarkable indifference to the views of anyone outside the corporate world on the future of U.S. trade policy," AFL-CIO president John Sweeney said in a statement.
The lawsuit also seeks to enjoin the USTR from calling a meeting of the committee and considering any new trade agreements, such as ones being negotiated with Chile and Singapore, until additional appointments are made.
The AFL-CIO claims it is the first time in the history of the ACTPN, established by Congress in 1974, that the current nominees include no representatives of labor, environmental or consumer organizations. Union officials claim that is a "clear violation of the law."
Under the statute governing the committee, the president may appoint up to 45 committee members, which means there are still 13 vacant slots. It is unclear, however, whether the administration plans to name more nominees. Calls to the White House and USTR press offices were not returned.Chris Chafe, political and legislative director of UNITE, which had maintained a seat on the committee for years under the umbrella of the AFL-CIO but was not appointed this time, said labor leaders had received no indication that the administration plans to add more nominees to the committee.
"We have had no contact, no outreach and no communication," said Chafe. "We really feel this is just another example of this administration showing no interest in engaging workers or their organizations in having a role that shapes U.S. industrial policy in trade."
He said the union is concerned about workers’ rights, consumer rights and the environment on a global basis.
"Apparently, having those kinds of concerns is not something shared by the Bush administration," Chafe said.
In the lawsuit, the AFL-CIO claimed the ACTPN helped the union influence components of U.S. trade policy, including establishing standards for workers’ rights and working conditions, as well as the environment in trade agreements.
The ACTPN has submitted reports to Congress on such trade agreements as NAFTA, the agreement between the U.S. and China establishing permanent normal trade relations between the two countries; the Uruguay Round of multilateral trade negotiations, and the free-trade agreement between the U.S. and Jordan.
Jay Mazur, president emeritus of UNITE, joined four other former ACTPN committee members in signing and sending a letter Thursday to the president, protesting the narrow corporate representation on the committee. The five former committee members called on U.S. officials to appoint labor, environmental and consumer representatives to the committee.
"These representatives must be appointed immediately, so that they will be able to serve as active members of the committee when it is called upon by Congress to review newly negotiated bilateral trade agreements [including Chile and Singapore] early next year," the letter stated.
This isn’t the first time the Bush administration has been challenged about the organization of its trade advisory committees.
Last year, domestic textile officials protested the increasing presence of importers on a key Commerce trade committee, which provides input on trade negotiations and has the ear of the administration on trade policy.
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