Background

A handful of U.S. lawmakers have raised concerns about President Biden’s announced plans to pursue trade-related agreements with partners in the Indo-Pacific and Latin America.

In an Aug. 1 letter to U.S. Trade Representative Katherine Tai, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo, and others, nine members of Congress said that while they support the “worker-centered trade policy” the Biden administration is pursuing as part of the Indo-Pacific Economic Framework and the Americas Partnership for Economic Prosperity, that goal could be jeopardized by the way the administration is pursuing those initiatives. Specifically, the letter said, IPEF and APEP “mark a significant and concerning expansion” of the attempts by several recent administrations to use bilateral, issue-specific executive agreements to evade Congress’ constitutional authority to regulate foreign commerce and avoid public scrutiny.

The lawmakers urged the White House to “consider the lessons of past trade negotiations that too often were conducted in secret.” They pointed out that IPEF and APEP “were both announced abruptly without robust consultation with Congress or stakeholders or a mandate from Congress” and that both currently include “nations with autocratic governments and terrible human and labor rights practices.” Instead, the lawmakers said, proposed participants must be reviewed and reconsidered in partnership with Congress and the public, and outside stakeholders should be given “the opportunity to weigh in at the outset on proposals for specific negotiation objectives and … draft text.”

The letter also called on the administration to “make concrete commitments” to ensure that IPEF and APEP support a worker-centered trade policy and are not just “a framework to replace existing supply chains in China with sourcing relationships” in the Indo-Pacific and Latin America. At the very least, lawmakers said, the labor-related requirements in these initiatives should include compliance with the International Labor Organization’s eight core conventions to protect basic labor rights; a ban on the importation of goods made with forced or child labor; an affirmative obligation to investigate and prosecute cases of threats or violence against workers and unions for exercising their labor rights; and a dispute resolution and enforcement mechanism modeled on the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement’s rapid response mechanism. These commitments should be enshrined in not only the trade pillars of the IPEF and APEP but others as well, include supply chains and infrastructure, because “workers are at the center of the issues” covered by these pillars.

For more information on IPEF and APEP, please contact Nicole Bivens Collinson at (202) 730-4956 or via email.

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