House Eyes Tightening Labor Standards; Targets Trade with Peru, Panama, Colombia

The Washington Times (Washington, DC), March 28, 2007 | Go to article overview

House Eyes Tightening Labor Standards; Targets Trade with Peru, Panama, Colombia


Byline: Steve Hirsch, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

House Democrats yesterday proposed tightening labor standards in pending trade deals with Peru, Panama and Colombia for the pacts to be approved by Congress.

The proposal came shortly before the Saturday deadline the Bush administration and Congress face to agree on the deals.

"We are on the brink of restoring bipartisanship to our trade policy," House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Charles B. Rangel, New York Democrat, told reporters in announcing the proposals. He expects to meet with the administration on the package in coming days.

The trade proposals include requiring countries to adopt and enforce international labor standards, which have been a major bone of contention between Democrats and labor groups on one side and the administration on the other.

That will require changing labor provisions of the Peru and Colombia agreements to include an enforceable commitment to abide by core international labor standards, said Rep. Sander M. Levin, a Michigan Democrat who heads the Ways and Means trade subcommittee.

Those pacts and another agreement with Panama also would have to be changed to ensure intellectual property rights provisions do not prevent poor people in those countries from having access to life-saving drugs, he added.

Without a "reassessment" of U.S. trade policy, "we can't re-establish bipartisanship," Mr. Levin said.

Agreements on labor standards between Congress and the administration are crucial to the fate of the trade deals as well as the renewal of President Bush's trade-negotiating authority, which expires at the end of June. That authority allows the administration to work out trade agreements that Congress must accept or reject without amendment.

The Democratic trade leaders said they also want a trade policy that will require countries to implement and enforce multilateral environmental agreements, take action to address Chinese subsidies and intellectual property violations, and press for immediate action on Chinese and Japanese currency manipulation, and open Korea's markets for automotive, industrial goods, agriculture and pharmaceuticals. …

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