Fast-track puts American Workers on the Wrong Track
They've changed the name, but don't be fooled. The arguments for giving the President unfettered trading authority haven't gotten any better. Despite overwhelming evidence that current trade policies have resulted in massive trade deficits, job losses, and firm closures, the House leadership and the Administration have scheduled an ill-timed vote this week for fast-track trade negotiating authority.
It is quite likely that giving the Administration the authority it seeks will only exacerbate the losses felt in our manufacturing sector, with even more jobs moving to countries without labor or environmental standards. We should be working to reverse this trend, not facilitate it.
Since the House passed NAFTA using fast track authority eight years ago, gross U.S. exports have risen 61.5% while imports have gone up much more, by 80.5%. Those on the other side tout increasing exports, yet they ignore mounting trade deficits. U.S. trade deficits with its NAFTA partners, Canada and Mexico, have in fact ballooned during the life of the agreement, growing from $16.6 billion in 1993 to $62.8 billion in 2000.
This amounts to over 3 million trade-related job losses, as determined by the U.S. Department of Labor under two free-trade Administrations, one Democratic and one Republican. Granting the President this new authority will only serve to hasten an already unacceptable trade deficit and make the U.S. economy more vulnerable to a financial crisis.
The Congress recently learned what it can expect in future trade agreements from this Administration. On April 22, 2001, President Bush told the world leaders at the Summit of the Americas, "Our commitment to open trade must be matched by a strong commitment to protecting our environment and improving labor standards." Apparently, his chief trade negotiator did not get the memo.
For example, there is no such language on either critical issue in the draft Free Trade Area of the Americas agreement, which would require fast-track authority. Further, at the recent WTO Ministerial in Doha, Qatar, environmental protections did not make the grade -- despite our side making numerous concessions -- and our negotiators failed to adhere to U.S. statutes requiring them to seek a Working Group on labor rights.
President Bush is my Commander-in-Chief, but this Administration simply does not deserve our trust on trade. It is shamelessly questioning the patriotism of fast-track opponents, saying the President must have this unchecked trading authority in a time of war. As Secretary Powell stated recently, "[Fast-track] is going to be viewed internationally as a test of the president's leadership" during these troubled times.
I think a better test of his leadership is to work with Congress in a bipartisan way to craft trade policies that put our workers first.
Congress must not hand over its responsibility to "regulate commerce with foreign nations" as defined in Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution. We are the people's House, and we hear from those people who are out of work because of unfair trade deals each and every day. We should not simply hand over our vital role in crafting trade policies that directly affect our constituents. Where are the voices of those who historically defend literal interpretation of the Constitution?
Despite what opponents say, those of us who oppose fast track do not oppose trade. We simply oppose a policy that allows the Administration to craft trade agreements in a vacuum, without the people's representatives at the table.
It may be called something different this year. It may have a fancy new title. But fast track is just as wrong now as it was before, and the Congress should once again defeat it.
Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., D-Paterson, represents the 8th Congressional District.