April 12, 2022

Warren, Casey Raise Concerns with Commerce Secretary Raimondo's Approach to New Indo-Pacific Trade Deal; Should Benefit American Workers, Not Corporate Offshoring

“Trade negotiations have frequently been weaponized by corporate lobbyists as a backdoor way to prevent the U.S. government from regulating their abuses of workers, consumers, and the environment. These lobbyists clearly will seek to repeat this play with IPEF”

Text of Letter to Ambassador Tai (pdf) | Text of Letter to Secretary Raimondo (pdf)

Washington, D.C. - United States Senators Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bob Casey (D-Pa.), both members of the United States Senate Committee on Finance, sent letters to United States Trade Representative (USTR) Katherine Tai and United States Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo regarding their plans to negotiate an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and how this new trade deal may impact U.S. workers. 

In their letter to Secretary Raimondo, the Senators expressed concern that the Secretary has not articulated how the three IPEF pillars that she will negotiate will help U.S. workers. The Commerce Department did not include labor as an area of focus in its request for comments on IPEF and has not committed to including strong, enforceable labor standards in its negotiations. The Senators urged Secretary Raimondo to revise the approach to the framework to ensure it benefits American workers, not corporate offshoring.   

“We are particularly concerned that your agency’s request for comments on IPEF failed to include any reference to labor standards or U.S. domestic manufacturing. We urge you to revise your approach to ensure that U.S. trade policy stands up for American workers,” the Senators wrote in their letter to Secretary Raimondo.

In their letter to Ambassador Tai, the lawmakers acknowledged her strong track record on labor issues and emphasized key priorities for a worker-centered trade pillar in IPEF to be negotiated by USTR. “Given the failures of previous trade policy, we are pleased that you are committed to pursuing an inclusive trade policy that advances the interests of workers, environmental protection, and racial equity,” the lawmakers wrote in their letter to Ambassador Tai. Senators Warren and Casey also emphasized some key priorities for the USTR-led trade pillar in IPEF, including strong, enforceable labor and environmental standards, and digital trade rules that support the rights of workers, and consumers, and not lower regulatory standards to pad the profits of Big Tech companies.

In October 2021, the Biden Administration announced its intent to explore the development of IPEF, later clarifying that this new framework would consist of four “pillars.”

  1. Fair and Resilient Trade, led by the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR);
  2. Supply Chain Resilience, led by the Commerce Department;
  3. Clean Energy, Decarbonization, and Infrastructure, led by the Commerce Department; and
  4. Tax and Anti-Corruption, led by the Commerce Department.

USTR and the Department of Commerce requested comments on the proposed pillars, and the Senators have submitted the two letters in response. The Senators stated “we write regarding your plans to negotiate an Indo-Pacific Economic Framework (IPEF) and our concerns about how this new trade deal may impact U.S. workers. The Biden Administration has made historic commitments to implement a worker-centered trade policy, and you have made important progress on this front. However, the upcoming negotiation must move these policies forward, not return the U.S. to old, failed trade policies like the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).”

In their letter to Secretary Raimondo, the lawmakers noted that comments from the Secretary raise concerns about her approach to IPEF. Secretary Raimondo has said that IPEF will be “inclusive” and “flexible” – suggesting that she intends to “include” in trading partners with low labor and environmental standards while giving them “flexibility” so they do not have to actually improve. She has specifically expressed interest in engaging with countries like Vietnam that have poor labor and environmental protections, as well as restrictions on internet freedoms, without any promise to require them to make reforms in these areas before joining. She has also said that this new agreement would be “even more robust in some ways than the traditional free trade agreement,” even though traditional free trade agreements have been terrible for workers, consumers, and the environment, and should not be models to build on.

At a recent hearing, Senator Warren expressed support for Ambassador Tai and her worker-centered approach to trade policy and mentioned similar concerns included in the letters.

Last month, Senator Warren sent a letter to Secretary Gina Raimondo urging her to respond to the Senator’s December 2021 letter seeking clarification about remarks the Secretary made in a statement to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce regarding regulation of Big Tech companies by the European Union (EU). In the letter, the Senator raised concerns that Secretary Raimondo’s comments appeared to undermine the Biden Administration’s trade and regulatory proposals for Big Tech.