February 25, 2021

At Finance Hearing, Senator Warren Urges U.S. Trade Representative Nominee Katherine Tai to Commit to Ensuring Trade Advisory Committees Have More Representatives from Labor, Consumer, Environmental Groups Than Corporations

Warren Urges Administration To Make Trade Negotiations Open and Transparent to the Public

Video of Exchange (Youtube)

Washington, DC - During today's Finance Committee hearing, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) asked Katherine Tai, the nominee to be U.S. Trade Representative, to commit to ensuring that each of our existing trade advisory committees will have more representatives from labor, consumer, and environmental groups than from corporations. Senator Warren also asked for a commitment to make trade negotiations open and transparent to the public by releasing the draft bracketed text of any trade agreement under negotiation at least two months before Congress grants fast track authority.

Transcript: Finance Committee
Thursday, February 25, 2021

Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.

So, Trade agreements have a tremendous impact on our economy, they touch everything that people have been talking about this morning from jobs and wages to the quality of the air we breathe.  

Ms. Tai, I want to talk about process. Rigged processes produce rigged outcomes. And I worry that the processes that structure our trade policy are stacking the deck against American families.

One big piece of this is who is actually writing our trade deals. When the people whispering in the ears of our trade negotiators are corporate executives and industry lobbyists, you can bet that the outcome is probably not going to be great for American workers and American families.

And that's exactly what happened with the TPP. About 85% of the people sitting in on our trade advisory committees when that deal was negotiated were representatives from corporations and industry. And, by the way, it took months to even uncover this information - it wasn't publicly listed.

So, Ms. Tai, do I have your commitment that each of our existing trade advisory committees will have more representatives from labor, consumer, and environmental groups than from corporations?

Ms. Tai: Senator Warren, thank you for your question. I know how important this is to you and I wanted to share with you as well that I am a firm believer that good process drives good substance. In terms of the composition of the advisory committees, I commit to you to reviewing how those advisory committees are composed. There is a statute that governs in this area and I will be very eager If confirmed, to come back to you to look at that statute and to look at how the composition of those advisory committees actually happens. 

Senator Warren: Well, I appreciate that and I appreciate that you're going to come back to me on this but I have to say - if the administration won't ensure that the interests of American workers and American families are prioritized over corporations when we're writing trade deals, then we're never going to get beyond a trade policy that leaves American families on the losing side. This needs to happen so I'm looking forward to following up on this. 

I want to ask you about another important piece of process, and that's about what the public is allowed to see before trade deals are enacted.

After corporate executives and lobbyists are done shaping the terms of an agreement, Congress is usually asked to "fast track" it - greasing the skids so that the agreement can pass with a simple up-or down vote, no ability to make changes on it.

But the public doesn't actually know what their representatives are fast tracking because they never got to see the agreement. It's kept secret. So workers and families have no idea how corporations may have thrown them under the bus until after Congress has already tied its hands and given up some of its ability to fix the agreement.

Ms. Tai, I believe that Americans should be able to see for themselves whether trade deals that are being negotiated are actually good deals for them and for their families. Can you commit to releasing the draft bracketed text of any trade agreement under negotiation at least two months before Congress is asked to fast track it? Give us a chance to read it.

Ms. Tai: Senator Warren, I want to make clear to you how important the principles that you are articulating here with respect to those that advise our trade negotiators and with respect to making the results of trade negotiations available to the public. So, I want to start from there. I maybe want to go a step further and to let you know that this interest in transparency and connecting with the American people directly on our trade policies, in my mind, goes beyond what we do in the context of negotiating large trade agreements that I very much hope if confirmed to bring these principles to the conduct of US trade policy on a day to day basis.

Senator Warren: Well, I very much appreciate that you want to engage with the American people on this but what I'm really looking for here is a hard commitment here. You know to me, this is another place where the administration needs to take a hard line: trade negotiations must be open and transparent to the public. Without that commitment, you are denying Americans the ability to know if what is being negotiated on their behalf actually benefits them because they don't get any real input into the process.

Look, trade agreements need to happen on terms that strengthen American workers and the American economy.

If we want American families to come out ahead on trade deals, we need to start by fixing the processes that have produced these rigged outcomes. We need to make sure that representatives from labor, consumer, and environmental groups - not corporations - are the ones who are filling the seats at the table. And we need to give the public the opportunity to actually see and evaluate the trade agreements that will have such a huge impact on their lives and on their communities.

These would be big steps toward making our trade policy work better for more of America.

Thank you, Mr. Chairman.