Keith Chu (202) 224-4515
Wyden Statement on Senate Floor on New NAFTA
As Prepared for Delivery
Mr. President, the Senate begins debate today on the new NAFTA. I’m going to have a lot to say between now and the final vote on passage, but let’s begin with the facts of how the new NAFTA got to this point.
Back in the 2016 presidential campaign, then-candidate Trump said he was going to pull the U.S. out of NAFTA. He said NAFTA was, “the worst trade deal maybe ever signed anywhere, but certainly ever signed in this country.”
As president, he went a different direction. And after a whole lot of renegotiating with Canada and Mexico, the Trump administration announced a deal in 2018 that doubled down on some of the key mistakes of the original NAFTA. The new NAFTA the Trump administration came up with sold out American workers and was much too weak on enforcement. Democrats said it wasn’t going to be good enough – not even close – to get through the Congress. So we got down to work and fixed it.
The bill before the Senate is the end product of all that work. It’s the first real measure of certainty and predictability on trade that American workers and businesses have gotten since the beginning of the Trump administration. It has the strongest enforcement system ever written into a trade agreement – major new resources put into protecting American workers.
There’s been an effort by a few on the other side to strip those enforcement resources out of the bill. A whole lot of tricky procedural lingo, but really it’s a Trojan horse to go back to business as usual with weak enforcement that doesn’t get the job done.
For decades, there’s been a lot of happy talk in Washington about enforcing our trade laws. But the government moved too slowly and did too little to protect American workers when trade cheats came after their jobs. You’d have workers and businesses forced to wait for years for the government to crack down on rip-off artists, and by then it was often too late. Workers laid off, factories shuttered, communities left without a beating economic heart.
The original NAFTA was a part of the problem. It made strong enforcement almost impossible, and that was particularly a problem with labor rights in Mexico. The same governments that allowed corporations to undercut American jobs by paying rock-bottom wages and abusing workers’ rights in Mexico had the power to block the U.S. from fighting back.
So it was a real head-scratcher when the Trump administration agreed to a new NAFTA that kept that old, broken NAFTA enforcement system in place. That ought to have been the first part of the original NAFTA they threw out during the negotiations. But sure enough, in 2018, the Trump administration agreed to language on trade enforcement that didn’t actually enforce anything.
That was when Senator Brown and I got together – he’s been a crusader for tough enforcement as long as anybody – and we decided to change it. We put together a proposal that makes the United States’ enforcement system faster, tougher and directly responsive to the American workers and businesses targeted by trade cheats. Our approach will put trade enforcement boots on the ground to identify when factories in Mexico violate labor standards. It’ll be a lot easier to penalize the violators and protect the American jobs they threaten to undercut.
Senator Brown and I worked with our Democratic colleagues on the Finance Committee on the proposal. We took it to House leadership and got their input and support. And we told the Trump administration that tough enforcement starting with the Brown-Wyden proposal was going to be a prerequisite to getting the new NAFTA through Congress. Our approach is the strongest labor enforcement measure the United States has ever secured in a trade agreement. It’s a big reason why AFL-CIO has endorsed the new NAFTA.
When you combine this all-in approach to enforcement with ambitious new standards on labor and environmental protection, you put the brakes on the corporate race to the bottom. You raise other countries to the standards set by the United States instead of forcing American workers to compete in a game that’s rigged against them. These have been core Democratic trade policy priorities for a long, long time.
Commitments on labor and the environment weren’t a part of the original NAFTA. Those issues were pushed off into separate side letters. They were the trade policy equivalent of a pinky swear, and about as easy to enforce.
Now they’ll be right at the heart of the agreement, and the U.S. will have more power than ever to hold Mexico and Canada to their commitments.
On technology and digital trade, the new NAFTA redefines what American trade policy is going to be all about in the years ahead. Digital trade wasn’t a part of the original NAFTA because back when the deal was negotiated, it basically didn’t exist. Smartphones were science fiction. The internet was still years away from becoming the shipping lane of the 21st century.
The problem is, our trade laws are still stuck in that Betamax mindset today. Technology and digital trade are right at the core of our modern economy. They account for millions of good-paying jobs. They’re woven into every major American industry you can think of – health care, education, manufacturing, farming, the list goes on and on. So when the U.S. fights for strong rules on digital trade, it’s fighting to create and protect red-white-and-blue jobs in all those fields.
That’s why the new NAFTA helps to protect our intellectual property and prevent shakedowns of American businesses for their valuable data.
That’s also why it includes established U.S. law that protects small tech entrepreneurs who want to build successful, lasting businesses in a field dominated by a small number of goliaths.
It is long, long past time for the U.S. to bring its trade policy into the modern digital world. Getting smart digital trade rules on the books is not just about boosting exports. What the internet looks like around the world in 10, 20, 50 years is an open question. Will it be an open venue for communication among people around the world, or will more governments follow the lead of China, Russia, Turkey and Iran, fracturing the internet around national borders? Will it be a platform for free speech, or will Chinese officials and corporations find new ways to reach across an ocean and trample on Americans’ first amendment rights?
Those are just a few of the many important questions the United States is going to have to confront in the years ahead when it comes to policy dealing with technology. In my view, locking in digital trade rules that protect American jobs and entrepreneurs and promote free speech and commerce online is a good place to start.
Labor rights, environmental protection, rules on technology and digital trade, aggressive enforcement to protect American workers – these are all big areas of improvement in the new NAFTA.
In Oregon, it’s what’s called getting “Trade Done Right.” One in four jobs in my home state depends on trade, and those jobs often pay higher than non-trade jobs. More than 6,000 Oregon businesses are exporters, and the vast majority of them are small- and medium-sized. So Oregon shows that when people are in search of opportunities to get ahead, there’s often a strong answer when you look at trade and exports.
Agriculture is a huge part of the Oregon economy. The new NAFTA is going to put more of our wine on shelves outside the U.S. It’ll increase dairy exports. It’ll end unfair practices that discriminate against American-grown wheat.
Oregon companies that sell services like apps and engineering plans to customers overseas will have new protections under the digital trade rules.
Oregon workers in manufacturing will compete on a more level playing field with workers abroad because the new NAFTA raises the bar and includes the strongest-ever enforcement system on labor rights.
Bottom line, thanks to work done by a lot of members to fix the agreement the Trump administration negotiated, the new NAFTA is a better deal for American workers.
The last few years have delivered one trade gut punch after another to our exporters. The administration has driven away our traditional economic allies. Manufacturing is hurting. Farm bankruptcies have surged. Foreign markets are more closed off to American exports than they were before the Trump administration began. The new NAFTA is an opportunity to begin to change that.
I’m going to have a lot more to say in this debate. I want to thank Senator Brown for his laser focus and leadership on the issue of enforcement. I want to thank Ambassador Lighthizer, who is always forthright and who deserves some time on the links when this is all wrapped up.
I’m going to support this bill. I urge my colleagues to do the same, and I look forward to further debate.
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