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Trade Policy Hardly on Labor's Fast Track

Kate Ackley/CQ Roll Call
Union organizers and activists are protesting the Obama administration’s ambitious Trans-Pacific Partnership because of concerns over how it will affect jobs at home.

“We need trade agreements to keep markets open overseas,” Cohen said. “If we don’t, the [U.S.] products, the manufactured products ... will not have those who can consume or use them. And that means the jobs that are related to the production of those products are in jeopardy.”

Administration officials argue, too, that international commerce, particularly in Asia, will go on whether the TPP deals goes through or not. But, they say, the United States can use the deal to nudge some of its trading partners to do more to protect workers’ rights abroad and to help level the field for American workers to compete.

The Obama administration notes it has pursued workers’ rights through such actions as suspending the generalized system of preferences trade benefits for Bangladesh. And it brought an extremely rare trade case using a labor provision against Guatemala. “This administration has demonstrated its commitment to addressing labor concerns in trade agreements,” Froman said. “And it has a proven record of doing so.”

Drake lauds the administration on some aspects of trade policy, such as a World Trade Organization case against Chinese tire imports.

“In a couple places I think there’s measurable progress that we can point to,” she said. “This administration has been just head and shoulders above the prior administration in terms of pursuing trade cases particularly with respect to China.”

But Froman indicated he knows he has a tough audience when it comes to labor and its Democratic allies on Capitol Hill.

“We need to work with members of both parties, with business, with labor, with [non-governmental organizations] in our goal to build a broad base of support for trade agreements,” Froman said.

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