Coffman Introduces ‘Fair Environmental Trade Agreements Act’
Unifying Environmental & Trade Policy
Aurora, CO – Today, U.S. Representative Mike Coffman (R-CO) introduced H.R. 7064, the “Fair Environmental Trade Agreements Act.” If enacted, the bill will require the U.S. Trade Representative to certify, to the U.S. House Ways & Means Committee and to the Senate Finance committee, that any trade agreement the United States enters into with another country includes strong and enforceable provisions relating to both environmental and labor standards.
Under the “Bipartisan Congressional Trade Priorities and Accountability Act of 2015,” the office of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), can ‘fast-track’ negotiated trade agreements through 2021. While TPA has a list of “negotiating objectives,” which includes holding trading partners accountable for labor and environmental standards, the law does not require them to be a part of a trade agreement.
“It makes no sense that we are buying products, once made in America, from countries that are making these same products more cheaply because they have no environmental or labor standards. Environmental and labor standards need to be a requirement for every trade agreement that the United States enters into,” said Coffman.
For example, according to a report from Ohio State University, Beijing China has some of the worst air pollution and air quality on earth. This is due mostly to the coal burning factories in and around Beijing that daily spew smog and other toxic fumes into the atmosphere impacting our global environment. These factories heavily rely on outdated and inefficient technologies that are mainly focused on cheaply mass producing a wide range of products and are oblivious to environmental considerations. Given the lax environmental enforcement by Chinese authorities, these factories can typically produce goods for far less than factories in the U.S. can, where environmental regulations are in place and strictly enforced.
Labor laws are another key area where U.S. firms operate at a significant disadvantage. Probably the most egregious means other nations use to keep their cost down is their extensive use of child labor. According to the International Labor Organization, in fact, the Asia-Pacific region is, “home to more working children than any other region in the world; an estimated 122 million children aged 5-14 years are compelled to work for their survival. Millions are not enrolled in school at all.” Large manufacturing countries like China, have turned to using forced prison labor to meet their output goals. Such cases are often riddled with human rights violations. According to a 2016 Washington Post report, “many prisons (in China) and detention facilities are really factories unto themselves, with a variety of products being manufactured throughout vast compounds. These are islands of lawlessness, outside the reach of human rights attorneys, journalists, the UN and NGO’s, not to mention the family members of those who are incarcerated within”.
“The Trump administration is focused on trade deficits in its drive to negotiate new trade agreements, but it should also be making sure that U.S. manufacturing has a level playing field with its overseas competitors when it comes to environmental and labor standards,” said Coffman.
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