WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) today announced the introduction of the Trade Enforcement Priorities Act of 2009, legislation that would give the federal government more authority to address trade barriers that undermine American workers and domestic manufacturing. Sens. Russ Feingold (D-WI), Carl Levin (D-MI), and Arlen Specter (D-PA) are original cosponsors of the bill. This announcement comes as Secretary of Commerce Gray Locke, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, and United States Trade Representative Ron Kirk address key U.S. trade and economic priorities at the Joint Commission on Commerce and Trade in China this week.
“This bill is about requiring our trading partners to live up to their obligations so that trade agreements benefit American workers and businesses instead of shortchanging them,” Brown said. “For too long, our government has shirked its responsibility of enforcing the rules written to prevent lopsided trade agreements, at the expense of American businesses and workers. When U.S. companies abide by the rules and foreign companies don’t, that’s not trade – it’s a foreign jobs program. Reviving Super 301, with an emphasis on fixing unfair trade practices that cost American jobs, will promote exports and economic growth. The U.S. Trade Representative must be an advocate for American workers and businesses, not an apologist for trading partners who aren’t playing by the rules.”
“This bill will hold countries accountable for violating our trade rules. This saves American jobs and supports our businesses here at home,” Stabenow said. “We know our workforce can compete with anyone if we have a level playing field. Unfortunately, other countries have put our manufacturers and businesses at a competitive disadvantage through unfair trade practices. I have been working on trade enforcement since my start in the Senate and this legislation complements my Trade Prosecutor bill by identifying and prosecuting countries that cheat and opening up foreign markets for our American-made products. I am pleased to join my colleague Senator Brown to cosponsor this important legislation.”
“We need to restore the Super 301 trade law so that we have stronger tools to fight back against the unfair trade policies that put American workers at a disadvantage,” Levin said. “This legislation will require our trade representative to specifically look at countries with which we have large trade deficits to make sure they playing fairly. American workers and companies can compete with anyone in the world as long as it is on a level playing field. It is our government’s responsibility to ensure the playing field is level.”
“Too many of the trade agreements into which the U.S. has entered over the last two decades have been deeply flawed,” Feingold said. “At the very least, our businesses, workers, and consumers deserve energetic enforcement of the laws we still have to protect against unfair trade practices. I am pleased to join Senators Brown, Stabenow and Levin in cosponsoring this measure that will help to improve current trade law enforcement.”
“This is about job retention and job creation. Strict enforcement of our trade laws is critical to ensuring that our domestic manufacturers have a fair shot at competing with foreign exporters,” Specter said. “This legislation will help hold foreign exporters accountable and support American manufacturing so we can continue to be among the most innovative, skilled, and efficient producers in the world.”
Over past decade, the U.S. has lost more than five million manufacturing jobs. The employment situation has been exacerbated by trade barriers – including currency manipulation, restriction of American products, or unfair subsidies – used by some of our country’s trading partners.
Sections 301-310 of the Trade Act of 1974 address trade barriers that violate U.S. rights under a trade agreement or represent discriminatory practices that undermine U.S. Commerce. Section 310 of the act, also known as “Super 301,” requires the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) to examine and report on the most egregious trade barriers that adversely affect American exports. If the USTR identifies a measure as a “priority foreign country practice,” it is required to initiate a full Section 301 investigation. Super 301 is intended to promote U.S. exports and to signal to our trading partners that certain actions which adversely affect U.S. commerce will warrant immediate action.
Despite these laws, the USTR has largely ignored its enforcement responsibilities over the past eight years, failing to issue a Super 301 since 2001. The Trade Enforcement Priorities Act of 2009 would require the USTR to analyze trade barriers in the National Trade Estimates Report to determine which have the most adverse effect on U.S. exports and employment. Under the bill, the USTR – in consultation with other relevant agencies and Congress – would be required to prioritize its enforcement strategy and work with those countries that have a pattern of unfair trade practices. If the USTR identifies a practice occurring in a country that has a signed a trade agreement with the U.S., previously agreed-to methods of addressing disputes would be used. For example, if an unfair practice is addressed under the WTO Agreement, USTR would be required to seek consultation under the dispute settlement process. If the practice is occurring in a country that does not have an agreement with the U.S., bilateral consultations would be required until an appropriate remedy is identified.