May 14,2015

Wyden Floor Statement on the Importance of Trade Preference Programs

As Prepared for Delivery

I urge my colleagues to take the first step to throwing away the NAFTA playbook on trade. This overall package is going to usher in a new, modern American trade policy, starting with tough, robust, effective trade enforcement, which I addressed here on the floor a short while ago.

It’s also past time to upgrade and renew our trade preference programs. The businesses and workers who rely on this trio of programs are waiting for Congress to act.

The first of these proposals enhances and extends the African Growth and Opportunity Act, referred to as AGOA, which has been at the core of a close economic partnership between the U.S. and a host of African nations for more than a decade. And this proposal before the Senate will update that partnership in a way that’s positive for everyone involved. 

Back in the 1990s, during the NAFTA era, the United States had no meaningful trade policies to help African nations facing profound economic hardship climb back from the brink. This AGOA renewal takes the program to the next level. AGOA will be simpler for businesses to use, and there will be less red tape to worry about. African countries will be encouraged to zero in on strategies that will make the program even more effective. It’ll be easier for the U.S. to crack down on bad actors and verify that countries stay strictly in line with the criteria for eligibility. Best of all, this proposal will give everybody involved – workers, businesses, countries and investors – a decade of certainty.

I’m a big fan of AGOA – I believe it works for the U.S., it works for sub-Saharan Africa, and it’s a cornerstone of our economic policy in the region.

The second part of this trio – which renews the program known as the Generalized System of Preferences – is an economic win-win, because it’s a shot in the arm for developing countries, and it’s a major boost for American manufacturers, including hundreds in Oregon.

One of those Oregon businesses is Stackhouse Athletic in Salem, who will not only be able to create new jobs, they’ll be able to offer health benefits to their workers.

This extension of GSP will save American businesses an estimated $2 million a day by reducing tariffs. The GSP program expired nearly two years ago, and as a result, Oregon businesses last year paid an extra $4.9 million in tariffs. Renewing GSP will correct that issue, and it will support as many as 80,000 jobs with manufacturers, ports, farmers, and retail stores. The GSP program will be extended by this legislation through 2017.

And finally, the Senate has an opportunity with this legislation to reaffirm our economic commitment to Haiti, one of our closest and most disadvantaged neighbors in the world. Senator Nelson has been a leader on this issue, and there is bipartisan understanding that now is the right time to extend the Haiti trade preferences to line them up with AGOA. These Haiti preferences did not exist back in the NAFTA era. 

Today, they support as many as 30,000 jobs in that country, and they help to drive investment and lift Haiti’s economy in the long term. 

I’m confident that the Senate will come together to extend this package of preference programs because they make economic sense for the U.S., and they strengthen our ties with developing countries around the world. I urge my colleagues to support this legislation with our first vote. And I believe every Senator who believes it’s time to turn the corner with our trade policies and leave the NAFTA era behind should support the customs and enforcement bill with the second vote coming up.