U.S. Representative Adam Smith (D-Tacoma) made the following statement today concerning his disappointment in the passage of the Dominican Republic-Central American Free Trade Agreement:

“I am disappointed that the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Dominican-Republic Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA), “said U.S. Rep. Adam Smith, (D-WA). “I am an advocate of free trade, but CAFTA is a fundamentally flawed trade agreement that does not balance the needs of American workers and companies, nor the needs of the nations with which we trade.

It is clear that America needs to have a discussion and build a real consensus, one that does not currently exists, around the issues of trade, globalization and international competitiveness.

To build this consensus at home, America needs a modern, clear-eyed approach to the challenges of globalization. Competition has grown more fierce, more markets and consumers have become available, technology is changing the game, our workers are not prospering and we don’t really know how to factor in very real environmental concerns.

To build a consensus abroad, we must understand that workers’ rights and effective labor and environmental enforcement mechanisms are crucial to ensuring that developing nations fully and effectively participate in the global economy.

Our current debate over CAFTA barely touched on these new realities. 

My hope is that we can begin to talk not just about narrow trade agreements, but about what strategies we must adopt as a nation to ensure we meet the new 21st century challenges of globalization head on, allowing our companies to prosper, our world to grow closer together, our environment protected and our workers to succeed.   By doing so, we can move our nation and our trading partners forward in a way that makes real and sustainable progress toward opening markets, growing our economy and lifting developing states out of poverty.

This consensus must be grounded in balancing the interests and needs of American workers with those of private companies.  Time and again, the Bush Administration has chosen economic policies that undermine our ability to invest in education and skills training that are desperately needed in this country. Domestically, we must aggressively implement policies that help Americans succeed in the increasingly competitive global economy.  We must invest in providing skills training and lifelong learning opportunities so that American workers have the opportunity to upgrade their skills or get new jobs. We must invest in K-12 education, particularly in math and science, to ensure that we continue to lead the world in innovation. We must invest in research and development and partner with universities, businesses and entrepreneurs in developing new technologies and encouraging innovation that will drive our economy and create the jobs of the future. The American workforce and companies must be prepared to take on the challenges and reap the rewards of globalization.

Internationally, we must seek to improve workers’ rights – and raise the standard of living – in developing nations throughout the world.  Better protections for workers and a genuine effort to improve worker’s rights internationally are essential to forging this new consensus. Clearly, we do not expect workers in developing countries to instantly have the same legal protections as workers in the United States. However, there is no reason that our standard for worker protections can’t match those of the Jordan trade agreement. That agreement not only required Jordan to enforce their existing labor laws but to also make progress towards meeting all International Labor Organization standards.  At the same time, the enforcement provisions for the worker protection language should be on the same footing as robust intellectual property and investor’s rights.

With CAFTA, an opportunity has been missed to put forward an agreement that balances the need to open global markets to American workers and businesses and promotes growth and stability overseas. As negotiated by the Bush Administration, CAFTA actually weakens the existing workers’ protections currently available under the United States’ existing trade preference programs with the region. Similarly, on environmental protection, rural development and public health, this agreement falls short. While CAFTA rightly includes protections for the intellectual property rights that are so important to our region, the Administration failed to take such a serious approach on workers’ rights and environmental protections.

The United States must craft a competitiveness policy that provides American workers and businesses with real opportunity to grow and that strengthens our economy. We must build a trade policy that creates foreign markets for our products, not only a vast pool of unskilled laborers who have no hope of fully participating in a global economy. We believe that our nation must be bold in crafting policies to deal with the current economic realities.  We must rise to meet the historic challenge presented by globalization. By doing so, we can build a real consensus on trade that is bipartisan, comprehensive and puts our nation’s workers and businesses in a stronger position to compete and win in the global marketplace.

CAFTA and indeed many of the Administration’s economic policies falls far short of creating a cohesive and comprehensive policy on trade.”