Levin Floor Statement on Trade Preferences Extension Act

Jun 25, 2015

WASHINGTON – Ways and Means Committee Ranking Member Sander Levin (D-MI) today delivered the following remarks on the House floor in support of H.R. 1295, the Trade Preferences Extension Act of 2015, a bill that includes an extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act, an extension of Generalized System of Preferences, and a renewal of the Trade Adjustment Assistance program:

The debate these last weeks and months has been about: How do we get a strong and effective trade policy and trade agreement. That debate only intensifies now.

Supporters of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) thought vague negotiating objectives and a passive role for Congress in the process were the way to go. In part, because many on the Majority side feel that more trade is essentially better no matter its terms or conditions.

Opponents of TPA wanted to ensure that TPP negotiations were on the right track, with no blank check to USTR when there are so many outstanding areas where we are not satisfied with the status of negotiations, or where we are uncertain of their outcome.

Now we can focus like a laser beam on those issues. The argument about the process of TPA is now behind us, and the challenge of the substance of TPP smack in front of us.

Automatic embrace of centuries-old doctrines does not meet the challenges of intensifying globalization.

We will continue to shine a bright light on the critical issues like market access, state-owned enterprises, intellectual property and access to medicines, worker rights, environment, currency manipulation, and investment provisions that could put at risk domestic regulations.

Our calls for improvements to the negotiations will only grow louder.

In order for TPP to gain the support of the American people, it will need to gain the votes of a much broader coalition of members of Congress than voted for TPA. The issue is not pro-trade versus anti-trade, but whether we shape trade agreements to spread the benefits broadly, including to middle class Americans.

Take for example the two trade bills before us today. The African Growth and Opportunity Act and our trade preferences programs.

House Democrats have been key architects of these programs. For example, in the 1990s, our colleagues Jim McDermott and Charlie Rangel, working with Phil Crane, laid the foundation for the African Growth and Opportunity Act of 2000.

These programs are designed to help shape trade, to ensure that its benefits are more broadly shared. 

We can see that in AGOA, where stronger labor and other eligibility criteria, and the inclusion of textile and apparel products, can give us additional leverage to raise living standards.

The same is doubly true with the Haiti program. While there is much work to be done in Haiti, one critical element of our program – inspections of factories by the independent group Better Work – is resulting in improved compliance with Haitian labor laws and better conditions for workers there.

Finally, this bill includes a reauthorization of Trade Adjustment Assistance. I am an ardent supporter of TAA and introduced a bill earlier this year with Adam Smith to reauthorize it. I support H.R. 1295.

To be sure, this TAA bill is not perfect. It falls short of the high-water mark we established for the program in 2009. At a time when trade is expanding and is expected to expand even further with new trade agreements, we should be ensuring adequate funding for workers who lose their jobs as a result of trade and are transitioning to new jobs not cutting the program. But we need to restore the program also for service workers and for trade with all countries – improvements that were wrongly allowed to lapse at the end of 2013 – and we need to extend the entire program for the future.

TPA, TPP, TAA.  It might seem like a word scramble. But going forward, TPP to the American people will be about jobs and wages. They expect us to work hard to get it right as it is being negotiated, not simply leaving their elected officials with a yes or no vote after TPP is done. We have a lot of work to do, and there is no ducking these issues now.