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Legislation Fails to Ensure Key Labor, Environmental & Other Protections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today Senator Mazie K. Hirono opposed trade promotion authority legislation, also known as “fast track” authority, which was passed by the U.S. Senate 62-37:

“This was an important vote on an important issue. Congress should set strong, enforceable guidelines that ensure trade deals include strong labor, environmental, and other standards that guarantee workers and businesses in places like Hawaii are on an equal playing field. Trade agreements should not result in a continuing shift of manufacturing jobs to the countries that we made these agreements with, as has happened in the past. Trade deals should help, not hurt, middle class families and workers. I voted against this bill because it does not go far enough to ensure future trade deals will include fair wages, a decent standard of living, and a clean environment for all.

“Fast track bills give the President authority to negotiate trade deals on the condition that Congress will vote to accept or reject the deal without making changes—as long as the deal meets the objectives set by Congress. That’s a lot of authority to grant without knowing what a final agreement will look like. For example, the Administration has been negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which would represent 40% of the world’s economy and very few people, including Members of Congress and the public, know what is in the agreement. Past fast track bills have not put strong enough standards in place and we’ve seen whole communities and industries hurt as a result.

“In fact, because of the harm that can come to communities as a result of these trade deals, Congress passed Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA). This program provides income support, retraining, and other resources for U.S. workers who lose their jobs as a result of foreign trade. Hawaii has had to use these programs to support workers in the past, which we’re reminded of when we see sugar plantations that remain fallow. I’m glad the bill passed by the Senate includes a renewal of TAA, but more should have been included to enhance the program.

“In addition to the lack of transparency, I’m also disappointed that such an important issue was not more thoroughly debated, and that more amendments to improve the bill were not discussed and voted on. There was no reason to rush such an important debate.

“Congress certainly shouldn’t be putting trade agreements that fail on fundamental protections on a ‘fast track’ to passage, which is why I’ve consistently opposed free trade agreements that were negotiated under fast track authority in the past. Instead, Congress should fast track legislation that will help working families like raising the minimum wage, funding job creating transportation and infrastructure projects, and enhancing U.S. competitiveness by passing comprehensive immigration reform and making college more affordable.”