WASHINGTON, D.C. — As trade talks continue in the Senate, today U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) joined a group of senators dedicated to fair trade in speaking on the Senate floor to discuss their priorities related to U.S. trade policy.
“The interests of Wisconsin’s workers are being represented in these negotiations by unelected officials in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative,” said Baldwin. “And I am here to let these negotiators know that Wisconsinites don’t want more of the same failed promises from free trade deals. Wisconsin workers make things, and we have been one of the top manufacturing states for generations. If we hope to continue making things, we think that we should continue to have our own government as a customer.”
WATCH video of Baldwin’s remarks here.
Baldwin’s full remarks follow:
“M. President, as President Obama noted in his State of the Union, the American economy is growing again. We are creating jobs at the fastest pace since 1999. And unemployment is lower than before the financial crisis. American businesses are posting large profits and boosting the stock market along with them.
“Yet for many working Americans, this good news is only that—news. Something they see in the paper or on TV, not in their paychecks or at the kitchen table.
“Many of the Wisconsin workers I hear from every day are struggling to make ends meet. They are working more, taking home less, and worried that for the first time in American history their kids will have fewer opportunities than they did.
“M. President, for the last five years, the Obama Administration has been negotiating with eleven nations in the Asia-Pacific region on a free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Some of these countries have values similar to ours, and some do not.
“I fear that this agreement could allow some nations to take advantage of the values we as Americans place on our environment, on labor laws, on human rights, and on free enterprise rules. These nations would be competing against American workers on an uneven playing field. This unfair game would continue the downward pressure on wages that has plagued American workers since before NAFTA. The interests of Wisconsin’s workers are being represented in these negotiations by unelected officials in the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. And I am here to let these negotiators know that Wisconsinites don’t want more of the same failed promises from free trade deals.
“Wisconsin workers make things, and we have been one of the top manufacturing states for generations. If we hope to continue making things, we think that we should continue to have our own government as a customer. That is why I have been a big and strong supporter of ‘Buy America’ provisions that require federal agencies that use taxpayer dollars to purchase American-made products.
“Free trade agreements have historically allowed foreign nations too much leeway when bidding for our government projects and contracts, while not affording American companies that fair access, that same access. I have asked the GAO to study this and report back to Congress so we can know the effect of skirting ‘Buy American’ laws have and the cost that is has to American manufacturers.
“Currencies that reflect their true value are also vital to conduct global trade. When foreign countries cheat by manipulating their currencies to price their goods cheaper, Wisconsin workers – in fact all American workers - lose.
“Seven years ago, then Senator Obama, speaking about the Bush Administration’s inaction on currency manipulation said it best: ‘Refusing to acknowledge this problem will not make it go away…The Administration’s refusal to take strong action against China’s currency manipulation will also make it more difficult to obtain congressional approval for renewed Trade Promotion Authority, as well as additional trade agreements.’
“That statement is as true today with the Obama Administration as it was with the Bush Administration. Currency manipulation is essentially cheating. And that is why I support including strong and enforceable currency manipulation provisions in any trade agreement.
“Without these rules, we will allow countries to engage in a race to the bottom that leaves everybody worse off.
“One of the things that has made America great is our entrepreneurial spirit. This spirit has attracted immigrant entrepreneurs from all over the world. But all too often I hear from Wisconsin businesses whose patent ideas are being stolen and replicated in Asia.
“I believe that any agreement must include high standards for protecting intellectual property to encourage risk-taking investments that turn into profitable companies and jobs right here in the United States.
“In the same way I believe that our ideas should be protected, I also believe that what we call our foods should be protected from foreign interference. And let me explain what I mean by that --
“In fact, the European Union has sought to restrict the use of cheese, meat, and alcohol names that American producers have produced for generations. For instance, cheese producers in Wisconsin would not be able to call their cheese ‘feta’ because it is not made in Greece, while a brewer in Wisconsin couldn’t label his dark beer a ‘Bavarian Black,’ because it isn’t made in Bavaria, in Germany.
“I have worked hard to urge the U.S. Trade Representative to reject any attempt by the European Union, or any foreign nation, to restrict the use of common food names in order to protect our food manufacturers and processors across this country. And especially as Wisconsin is a major producer of beer, brats, and cheese -- this is an issue that is very close to home.
“Finally, I have concerns about the value systems of some of the nations that are party to the TPP. By way of example, Brunei recently adopted new Sharia laws that include the death by stoning, for acts of adultery, homosexuality, and forced amputations for other offenses including consuming alcohol. These laws go so far as to outlaw public Christmas celebrations. In fact, the act of wearing a Santa Claus hat in public could lead to a fine of more than $15,000, a five-year imprisonment sentence, or both.
“Amnesty International has called the new rules in Brunei ‘shocking’ and they have been declared illegal by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights. We should not be affording our highest trading privileges to nations that do not value basic human rights.
“M. President, I have heard from so many constituents who are rightly skeptical of the promises that this new generation of trade agreements offer. I appreciate having this opportunity to express my concerns about free trade agreements that are currently under negotiation. After seeing decades of jobs going overseas while the ones that are left pay less, who can blame the critics?
“Until it is clear to me that the gains from these agreements will go to the middle class, and not just multinational corporations, millionaires, or billionaires, I will continue to oppose them.
“I thank my colleagues for organizing this opportunity to speak on trade and I yield back the floor.”