100 House Dems want new trade rules

Over 100 House Democrats including nine committee chairmen have signed on to legislation that would require President Obama to submit a plan to renegotiate the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and other trade deals.

The Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act of 2009 calls on the president to submit a plan to address through renegotiations gaps between existing deals, as well as benchmarks Congress would set on various issues.

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It would establish a congressional “super committee,” to be chaired by the House Ways and Means and Senate Finance committee chairmen, to formulate the plan.

It also calls for a new “fast-track” law that would require Congress to vote in favor of a new trade agreement before the president offers his signature.

Backers of the bill, including primary sponsor Rep. Mike Michaud (D-Maine), described it as “consistent with what the president said he would do before he was elected.”

During last year’s presidential campaign, Obama said he would consider pulling the U.S. out of NAFTA. Since his election, Obama has called for tougher labor and environmental rules to be included in the deal, which covers the U.S., Canada and Mexico.

The new trade legislation is similar to a 2008 bill, but that measure attracted only 74 co-sponsors and did not make it out of committee. The rising number of co-sponsors on the legislation reflects both the larger Democratic majority in the House and increasing skepticism about trade amid a global recession.

It also underlines questions about when three trade deals completed by the Bush administration might receive votes in Congress. Those agreements are with Panama, Colombia and South Korea.

Only two Republicans have signed on as co-sponsors: Reps. Walter Jones of North Carolina and Chris Smith of New Jersey. The Democratic chairmen who are co-sponsors are Robert Brady (Pa.) of House Administration; John Conyers Jr. (Mich.) of Judiciary; Bob Filner (Calif.) of Veterans’ Affairs; Bart Gordon (Tenn.) of Science and Technology; Jim Oberstar (Minn.) of Transportation; Collin Peterson (Minn.) of Agriculture; Nick Rahall (W.Va.) of Natural Resources; John Spratt (S.C.) of Budget; and Louise Slaughter (N.Y.) of Rules.

Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) will introduce accompanying legislation in the Senate, Michaud said.

Lawmakers cited a number of issues in arguing for the legislation, from concerns that imported food is not safe to environmental issues, workers’ rights and a need to combat job loss. Existing policies on international trade “have been anything but beneficial to our workers and our businesses,” Rep. Betty Sutton (D-Ohio) said.

“There are those out there who will accuse us of being anti-trade,” Sutton said. “But we are in favor of trade that is fair and balanced and will work with our businesses and workers —and not against them by leaving them at an unfair disadvantage.”

International trade has plunged in the wake of the recession.

The World Bank predicted this week that global trade would drop by 10 percent this year, and that developing countries would be particularly hard-hit.