Congressman Stephen F. Lynch made the following remarks on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives on Wednesday, May 3, 2006 about three proposed trade agreements.


Mr. Speaker,

I rise tonight to address the House on the matter of the three proposed trade agreements that we are about to consider, namely, Colombia, Peru and the Sultanate of Oman trade agreements.

Every Member of this body knows or should know the history of job loss in this country, and you would think, as my colleague from Texas said, that when you find yourself in a hole, you would stop digging, but not us. Here we go again.

Just like the other so-called free trade agreements, the Colombia, Peru and Oman trade agreements contain no meaningful language or effective labor or environmental standards for workers in those countries. These so-called free trade agreements seek to reinforce the status quo in the host countries.

Mr. Speaker, what we have here is identical language to the problematic and inadequate language that was contained in CAFTA and NAFTA before that.

Instead of enforceable labor provisions with teeth, these free trade agreements suggest only that those Nations adopt and enforce their own labor laws. They offer no assurance that existing labor problems will be resolved, and they allow labor laws to be weakened or eliminated in the future, with no possibility of recourse.

Now, some may wonder why the President and the administration chose these three countries for the next round of free trade agreements. It seems to me, after looking at the agreements, the Bush administration went out to the nations with the very worst examples of labor laws, protections and enforcement in the world, and some of the well-documented and more troubling aspects of these consist of the following. First of all, in Colombia, in 2004, over 200 trade unionists were killed, making it the most dangerous country in the world for workers seeking to exercise their freedom to form unions. More than 3,000 union members have been killed in Colombia since 1985, and only five people have been indicted in those cases.

In Peru, the U.S. State Department has indicated that child labor remains a serious problem. This is our own U.S. State Department. They estimate that 2.3 million children between the ages of 6 and 17 are engaged in work in that country. Now, when we talk about free trade, that is not free trade. That is asking the American worker to compete with children who are being paid very low wages and being exploited in these other countries.

In Oman, their 2003 labor laws remain in serious violation of the International Labor Organization's most important and fundamental rights: freedom of association and the right to organize and bargain collectively. There are no independent unions in that country.

Mr. Speaker, while trade sanctions and serious remedies are granted to the commercial trade and investment provisions of these free trade agreements, the labor and environmental standards are totally ineffectual.

It is interesting to me that the negotiators can get good protections for intellectual property rights and other commercial rights, but when it comes to labor and environmental standards, it is just not happening.

I want to address the House especially within the context of the immigration problem that we are running up against in recent days. We have folks that are tunneling into our country from Mexico. They are swimming across rivers. They are hiding in containers from foreign countries and dying in the process of trying to get here, number one, to get out of the countries that they are in because they are in a troubled state and they know they have got no rights; secondly, to give their families hope in coming here.

It seems to me, if we wanted to stop some of the immigration problems, we could include in our trade agreements provisions that protect those workers in their own countries. Then maybe they would not be lining up to come to this country with hopes of getting out of that situation.

Secondly, we also talk a lot that we have got a major effort in Iraq, and the President of the United States has described it in many cases as an effort to export democracy. Well, I have got news for you; you do not export democracy through the Defense Department.

This is where you export democracy, in our trade agreement, through our Commerce Department. Democracy is all about opportunity, and we should in our trade agreements give these foreign workers an opportunity to stay in their own country, to buy goods from us that would create a good dynamic by creating jobs in this country. Democracy is about opportunity, and if we are really serious about exporting democracy, it starts right here. It starts with our free trade agreements.

This is just a terrible series of trade agreements. It offers no opportunities to these foreign workers. We are going to exacerbate the immigration problem because, as long as these people do not have a right to earn a decent living and have decent working conditions in their own country, they are still going to be coming here.

So we can help on two fronts by adopting fair labor standards in our trade agreements, and I urge my colleagues to reject the Peru, Colombian and Oman trade agreements.