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Wednesday, June 10, 2015

 11:59 AM 

Column: Kind calls TPA precursor to NAFTA 'do-over’

This is an excerpt from Nicole Duran's weekly DC Wrap column. Sign up to get the full column in your inbox each week.

Western Wisconsin Congressman Ron Kind says he's one of fewer than 20 House Democrats willing to give President Obama-- and his successors-- the ability to seek congressional sign-off on trade deals without the opportunity for amendment.

His reasoning: it's the first step toward correcting mistakes in past treaties, such as the North American Free Trade Agreement.

"If we want a trade agreement based on our rules" and not China's, for example "this is the process that gets us there," said the La Crosse Democrat who heads the congressional New Democrats Coalition on trade promotion, or fast-track, authority.

He said every president since Franklin Roosevelt, with the exception of President Nixon, has been allowed to negotiate trade deals in the streamlined process outlined in expired TPA legislation. It is necessary to get other countries to sign agreements such as the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership and EU-wide Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership under negotiation. Otherwise, leaders of those nations fear that what an administration presents them is not the final product, and that Congress's 535 "independent contractors" will significantly alter the terms, Kind said.

"What people are upset about is the status quo," Kind said, referring to many congressional Democrats who oppose trade deals because they believe such agreements cause Americans to lose their jobs, factories to move overseas and employers to lower wages while doing nothing to foster higher environmental and labor standards abroad . "We need to level the playing field," which can only be done through TPA, TPP and TTIP, he explained.

Kind pointed out that Mexico and Canada are parties to TPP, which gives the U.S. a chance to overhaul its trade relationship with those two countries. "Very seldom do you get a do-over" with trade deals but that is what TPP is, he said.

Kind said the "race to the bottom" in terms of labor, environmental and human rights standards happens in countries with which the U.S. has no agreement, he countered. "We want [other nations] to elevate their standards."

Rep. Mark Pocan is helping lead Democratic opposition to TPA, TPP and TTIP. He doesn't buy Kind's argument, which echoes that of the White House.

"I truly believe that the White House feels this is good for geopolitical reasons," he said. But when he looks at his Madison-based district, he doesn't see potential benefits.

Pocan read the draft TPP chapters on labor, environment and human rights. "I would argue there is some marginally better language in the labor chapter and weaker in the environmental chapter," he said. "But the bottom line is, both lack meaningful enforcement" mechanisms. "They don't have teeth."

Read Duran's column for more on this and other DC issues


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