ICYMI: At Hearing, Ambassador Tai Commits to Progressive, Worker-Centered Trade Policy
Washington, D.C. – In case you missed it, yesterday, during a hearing of the Senate Finance Committee, United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) showed support for Ambassador Katherine Tai, United States Trade Representative, and her progressive, worker-centered approach to trade policy. Ambassador Tai’s robust enforcement of labor standards recently helped lead to two large groups of employees in Mexico voting overwhelmingly for new unions, both helping those workers and leveling the playing field for American workers.
In response to questions from Senator Warren, Ambassador Tai committed to including labor and climate as her two top areas of focus in negotiations on a new Indo-Pacific Economic Framework:
“(T)he reason why these two areas are listed at the top of our list is to indicate that in the exercise of setting high standards that one of the areas where the United States has consistently led around the world has been in incorporating strong, enforceable labor and environment standards to demonstrate our commitment to the importance of these areas in our competitiveness and in our terms of trade.”
Ambassador Tai also committed to Senator Warren that all stakeholders’ views are represented “robustly” and “comprehensively” - not just the views of giant corporations.
Senator Warren welcomed these commitments from Ambassador Tai, but raised concerns that Department of Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo would not take the same approach to the three pillars of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework that she will negotiate. While the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative has included labor and competition policy as areas of focus in its request for comments on these negotiations, the Commerce Department did not include these topics in its request. That approach from Secretary Raimondo could boost profits for giant corporations that offshore jobs and hurt small businesses, and should be a non-starter.
Senator Warren has led the fight to crack down on corporations abusing their market power and engaging in corporate profiteering to protect American consumers and bring down costs:
- Recently, in a letter to Secretary Raimondo, Senator Warren raised concerns that Secretary Raimondo’s comments appeared to undermine the Biden Administration’s trade and regulatory proposals for big tech.
- In February, Senator Warren called out corporations for abusing their market power to raise consumer prices and boost profits during a hearing.
- In February, Senator Warren called out private equity and other Wall Street investors at a hearing for exacerbating inflation by jacking up prices and released responses from three corporate landlords that have been increasing rents, driving up housing costs, and raking in profits amid housing shortage.
- Senator Warren called on Commerce Secretary Raimondo to use CHIPS for America Act funding to push back against industry consolidation in the semiconductor industry, address supply-chain resiliency, and bolster competitiveness in the industry. The global chip shortage has resulted in significant price increases for American families and contributed to the recent increases in inflation, as well as job losses due to auto plant shutdowns.
- Senator Warren slammed Hertz’s $2 billion dollar buyback plan, which would line the pockets of company executives and the private equity firm Apollo Global Management, while they raise rental car costs for consumers.
- Senator Warren called out the 11 energy companies for inflating natural gas prices for consumers while reaping record profits.
- Senator Warren called on the Department of Justice to investigate the poultry industry’s anticompetitive behavior as turkey and chicken prices have soared.
Transcript: The President’s 2022 Trade Policy
U.S. Senate Committee on Finance
Thursday, March 31, 2022
Senator Elizabeth Warren: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. And thank you, Senator Brown.
So, let’s start with some good news. Ambassador Tai, your approach to a worker-centered trade policy is actually beginning to pay off. Thanks to your work, two large groups of employees in Mexico voted overwhelmingly for new unions. That is good for those workers, and it helps level the playing field for American workers who don’t have to compete against overseas factories that are paying below-poverty wages.
But, now the administration has announced plans to negotiate a new trade deal, called the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework. Lobbyists for the giant corporations are celebrating the IPEF as the second coming of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Now, there’s a reason that the original TPP was derailed. It would have offshored more jobs to countries that use child labor and prison labor and pay workers almost nothing. Let me be clear – the IPEF cannot be TPP 2.0.
Ambassador Tai, you will lead the negotiations on a key pillar of this new framework, on fair and resilient trade. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo will lead the negotiations on several other pillars, and I urge the Chairman to schedule a public hearing with her soon as well.
But, I want to ask you about your approach to these new negotiations.
Ambassador Tai, you have included labor and climate as your two top areas of focus in these negotiations. Are you committed to including strong, enforceable commitments in these two areas in IPEF, and extending trade benefits only to countries that can meet these standards?
Ambassador Katherine C. Tai, United States Trade Representative: Senator Warren, thank you so much for this question. And thank you for highlighting the objectives that we put out, including in our federal register notice recently. The short answer is yes. And the reason why these two areas are listed at the top of our list is to indicate that in the exercise of setting high standards that one of the areas where the United States has consistently led around the world has been in incorporating strong, enforceable labor and environment standards to demonstrate our commitment to the importance of these areas in our competitiveness and in our terms of trade.
Senator Warren: Good. They’re the right goals, and you’re already proving we can make this work. You know, our trade policy for far too long has been about lowering standards so that giant corporations can increase profits – let’s raise standards and build more of these jobs at home.
Now, I know that you’re also going to be negotiating rules on the digital economy. Tech companies like Facebook and Amazon are a huge part of global trade – and they’re also involved in spreading misinformation, mistreating workers, and squashing competition. They also hire hordes of lobbyists to protect their appalling way of doing business.
Ambassador Tai, will you ensure that any new digital trade rules promote competition so they benefit workers, consumers, and small businesses – and not just a handful of Big Tech companies?
Ambassador Tai: Senator Warren, let me assure you that one of our guiding principles in all of our exercises but in particular in the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the digital pillar – the digital component of the trade pillar – is to ensure that our stakeholders’ views are represented robustly and comprehensively. So that that table of advice and input is going to reflect our entire economy – not just parts of it.
Senator Warren: I am very glad to hear that. And I very much appreciate your demonstrated commitment to labor, environmental, and competition standards.
But frankly I’m worried that these higher standards will only be included in the trade pillar that you are responsible for negotiating. Secretary Raimondo will lead the negotiations on the three other pillars. And when she listed her priorities, labor standards and competition were absent.
Based on this and her other comments, I am concerned that her approach will boost profits for giant corporations – the ones that offshore jobs and squash small businesses. That should be a non-starter in our negotiations.
Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
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