Background: Fast Track Derailed
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MARGARET WARNER: Now, a key fast track opponent, Democratic House Whip David Bonior of Michigan. So, Congressman, do you agree with the ambassador and her assessment of why the president couldn’t muster the votes?
REP. DAVID BONIOR, (D) Michigan: I think the reason that the administration and the Republican leadership failed to muster the votes is that we’ve had four years of an experiment of fast track under the NAFTA, and the NAFTA has not been a success. It’s been the past. It’s been a policy that reflected how we used to do trade, and we’ve seen under the NAFTA literally hundreds of thousands of Americans lose their jobs.
We’ve seen a polluted environment along the border in which the American Medical Association has called a cesspool of infectious disease. We’ve seen unsafe food come into this country, and the ambassador is correct; it’s affected literally every one of our districts. What we saw in this debate this week–not a vote but a debate–was that we are ready to move the trade issue to another level to include inclusions of labor standards, environmental standards, and food safety standards. That is the future.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now you heard what she said at the end; that the president was willing to agree to insist that these countries adhere to their own standards, but what he thinks is impractical and that other countries don’t stand for is to raise these other countries’ standards on environment, cleanliness, labor, to U.S. standards, or even halfway there. What’s your answer to that?
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Two points on that particular answer to her assertions. No. 1, in Europe, when Greece and Portugal wanted into the European Union, they had to increase their standards on wages, on working conditions, on the environment before they would be accepted, and they did do that, and they were accepted. And it has worked. The other point I would make with respect to that is we are only asking for only asking, for instance, that the Mexicans enforce laws that they have. In the NAFTA and under the fast track agreement side agreements there is no enforcement mechanism on labor standards, on the environment. The laws are on the books. They don’t enforce it, but under the NAFTA and fast track standards for capital, standards for intellectual property, disks, and those–they’re enforced–if we can do that for intellectual property and for capital, we can do it for working conditions, we can do it for wages, and we can do it for a clean environment.
MARGARET WARNER: Well, are you saying, because both the president and Minority Leader Gephardt said later today that they thought an agreement was possible–do you think–in the coming months–there is an agreement along the lines you’re talking about? What would it actually have to say?
REP. DAVID BONIOR: The agreement that we’re talking about is to include labor standards, environmental standards, food safety standards in the core agreement as we do capital and intellectual property.
MARGARET WARNER: But–
REP. DAVID BONIOR: We think there is a majority in the Congress for that type of provision.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. What do you think this battle this weekend says about the power of organized labor, or the labor movement?
REP. DAVID BONIOR: I think it says a lot about the progressive movement, and that included not just organized labor; it included church groups, it included environmental organizations, the Audubon Society, the Wildlife Federation, the Sierra Club, all the major environmental groups, human rights groups; they all came together and said that the policies of this administration–they’re the past masquerading as the future. These are trade policies that haven’t really changed for a hundred years, and there are people struggling in Mexico and Brazil and other countries trying to get a decent wage and have collective bargaining, be able to form a union, have a cleaner environment. We need to be on their side. And we need to be on their side not only because it’s right but it affects our own people as well, because if we’re not on their side, corporations will continue to move abroad where there is comparative advantage on lower standards on these areas.
MARGARET WARNER: But if I could just ask you a crass political question, our commentator, Mark Shields, said on the show Friday–
REP. DAVID BONIOR: All right. I’ll go for it.
MARGARET WARNER: Good. –that also Democrats on the Hill now, as compared to say the NAFTA vote in ’93, are much more tied to or beholden to, whatever you want to say, to labor, than they were then in terms of money and in terms of organizing; that business–now that they’re in the minority–is not giving them up help–
REP. DAVID BONIOR: No.
MARGARET WARNER: And so they are more responsive.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: In the NAFTA debate, for instance, Margaret, business outspent organized labor like seven to one. They spent $30 million in that fight. They’ve outspent organized labor in this battle over the fast track. Organized labor cares about this because it’s their roots; it’s who they are. I mean, it’s their parents and grandparents who struggled for these rights, for the 40-hour work week, for the 8-hour day, for clean, safe foods. Those things just didn’t happen. They happened because our grandparents and their parents fought–sometimes bled–sometimes went to jail for those struggles. And what this debate has done has reminded our party and the country that those things just don’t come naturally. You’ve got to fight and struggle for them. And that’s why this is so exciting because we’ve taken this trade debate to another level in which these issues that helped us become a prosperous middle class and the values that we now have are part of that great heritage–will become the values we take into future battles with other countries.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, let me ask you about how you think this should be regarded around the world because I’m sure you heard Amb. Barshefsky say there are sort of two ways our trading partners could look at it.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Yes.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you think our trading partners should see this setback?
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Our trading partners look at the American market with great envy; they want in here badly, and believe me, they are not losing any sleep tonight because the Congress has said we want a futuristic trade policy that deals with these issues that I talked about. They’ve done over 200 trade deals, this administration, without fast track; they’ve only done two with it; that is the GATT and the NAFTA. NAFTA hasn’t worked out. So, you know, fast track is a concept that was developed 25/30 years ago. It’s old. We don’t do a lot of things today that we did 25 or 30 years ago. We need to move beyond that, and that’s why I’m excited that the president and some of our Republican colleagues want to join us to put together these different pieces that will take us into a progressive era, where we will be able to give people a decent environment to live in and some dignity in the workplace and a decent wage so they can raise a family.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Congressman, thanks.
REP. DAVID BONIOR: Thank you.