Campaign Promises

Other/Miscellaneous -> Independent Organizations -> Trade Representative

ItemIndependent Organizations
Trade RepresentativeGrade
The Promise: "...will use trade agreements to spread good labor and environmental standards around the world."
When/Where: Obama's Economic Agenda: "Keeping America's Promise," dated 01/29/08.
Status:The Congressional Trade Agenda has typically focused on:

1. Asia: China (at issue - perception that its yuan is undervalued) and South Korea (at issue - belief that the U.S. is shut out of Korea's auto market).

2. Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP): at issue - Congress wants assurances that TPP rules do not put the U.S. at a disadvantage. President Obama's goal was to conclude TPP negotiations between its nine member nations (Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, the United States and Vietnam) by the time the USA hosted a 21-member nation Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) forum in 11/11 in Hawaii. That didn't happen.

In order for negotiations on a TPP to take place, a new Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) needed to be in place to replace the TPA that expired in CY2007. A new TPA was signed into law by President Obama on 06/29/15. This paves the way for TPP negotiations between the USA and Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

3. There were Free Trade Agreements (FTAs) with 14 nations and mulilateral agreements among several parties such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between the USA, Mexico and Canada when President Obama took office in 01/09. At that time, FTAs with three nations were pending: Columbia, Korea and Panama. The impediments to timely Congressional approval of these FTAs were:

Columbia - human rights, environmental and labor issues;
Korea - access to the Korean auto and beef markets;
Panama - labor, environmental, and tax-transparency issues.

President Obama pulled these three trade agreements off the table shortly after he came into office and proceeded to tweak their labor and environmental rights aspects to his and Trade Representative Ron Kirk's satisfaction.

Following positive mock mark-up votes by the Senate Finance and the House Ways and Means Committees in 07/11, the White House finally submitted proposed trade agreement legislation to Congress on 10/03/11 to authorize trade pacts with South Korea, Colombia and Panama in addition to legislation to help workers who are hurt by increased trade. The White House had held back submitting this proposed legislation to Congress out of fear that Republicans would not take action on legislation extending "Trade Adjustment Assistance" (TAA). TAA was authorized under the Trade Expansion Act of 1962 and further defined under the Trade Act of 1974 for the protection of workers (administered by the Department of Labor), farmers (by Agriculture) and firms and communities (by Commerce).

Congress ratified the three trade agreements on 10/12/11 and President Obama signed them on 10/21/11. While these agreements address some labor and environmental standards, they are specific to the three countries. They do not constitute fulfillment of the promise to "spread good labor and environmental standards around the world."

On 02/13/13, President Obama called for a new FTA with the European Union (EU). Negotiation of such an agreement is expected to take several years.

We consider the above as tangible progress toward promise fulfillment.