House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles Rangel, D-NY, chastised The National Association of Manufacturers (NAM) for threatening to oppose free trade agreements if international labor standards are part of the deal.
“Sometimes when you lobby too fast, without knowing the facts, you’re really not helping anyone,” Rangel said in a speech before the Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics.
Rangel has been negotiating with Republicans and the Bush Administration on an understanding that could clear the way for Congressional approval of three completed bilateral free trade agreements with Peru, Columbia and possibly South Korea.
Rangel and Trade Subcommittee Sander Levin, D-MI, are insisting that ILO standards be part of those agreements.
They and fellow Democrats are also pressing for a “fair balance” between access to medicine in developing countries and protection of pharmaceutical company patent rights, expanded assistance for US workers hurt by globalization, and better enforcement of existing trade agreements.
Rangel and Levin have been negotiating with Ways and Means Committee ranking Republican Jim McCrery, R-LA, and US Trade Representive Susan Schwab. Rangel also credits Treasury Secretary Henry Paulson for progress being made in the talks.
National Association of Manufacturers president John Engler wrote Rangel and McCrery last week to warn that “subjecting our labor system to foreign challenge is simply not something to which we can agree.”
“If that were the price of obtaining new trade agreements, we would not be able to be supportive,” Engler said in his letter.
The US Chamber of Commerce raised the same issue, though less pointedly.
“Legitimate concerns have been expressed about how addressing labor issues in trade agreements could affect US federal and state labor laws,” the Chamber’s Bruce Josten said. “However, we hope this issue can be addressed to mutual satisfaction.”
“Sometimes our businesses groups would rather bark at the moon than find out what is going on,” Rangel responded.
Rangel responded to Engler’s letter with a sharply worded statement. His speech was his most public discussion of the matter to date.
Rangel explained that the US agreed to International Labor Organization standards by signing on in 1998 and that Democrats simply want future trade agreements to include these standards.
Asked Monday whether he could accommodate NAM’s and the Chamber’s concerns while still meeting his own goals, Rangel said “I don’t want to say ‘I don’t care.’” Rangel then went on to say it was of little concern whether he addressed either NAM’s or Labor’s concerns.
“Mr. McCrery and I are trying to work out language that would be acceptable to the House of Representatives,” Rangel said in explaining his goal.
Rangel also said that if NAM really wanted to try to persuade him, the way to do so was through a quiet private conversation, rather than a public broadside.
Frank Vargo, a vice president at NAM, said that NAM’s concern about having US legislation be subject to international scrutiny was “serious.” Fargo, who spoke with Rangel during a question and answer period after Rangel’s speech, said the letter was sent because “we just wanted to make sure our point of view was put on the table.” (Dow Jones & Company, Inc.)