[Editorial note: This post is written by guest blogger Steve
Charnovitz of George Washington University
. The views expressed
herein are solely those of the individual contributor and do not necessarily reflect
those of Public Citizen.]
Does USTR care about the
workers who produce the goods and services in world trade?
There is reason for doubt.
In my 34 years of being a USTR-watcher, I
have observed that the level of interest in labor, employment, and worker
issues at USTR is exceedingly low. Labor is viewed by USTR
as a problem, not an opportunity.
A quick look at USTR's website confirms this
disinterest. Under the “Trade Topics” being addressed by USTR
the topics of Employment and Workers are not listed. The topic of
"Labor" is listed, but perusing it today, on July 23, 2009, one sees that the most recent USTR
press release was in June 2007 and the most recent speech was in 2005.
Think about that!
Over seven months into
the Obama Administration which promised change, USTR has not said or done anything reportable about the topic of Labor. See http://www.ustr.gov/trade-topics/labor.
The USTR 100 Days Progress Report (dated May
1 posted at http://www.ustr.gov/sites/default/files/USTR%20100%20DAYS%20PROGRESS%20REPORT.pdf)
shows a similar inattention to issues relating to "workers,"
"employment", "labor," or "jobs." Sadly,
those words do not appear in the Report. Perhaps USTR is doing something constructive
behind the scenes, but if so, they should be more transparent about it.
What is the employment dimension of US
trade policy? That's simple. USTR should be paying attention to how trade helps
or hurts workers in the United States
and in other countries. US trade policy
should be crafted with an eye toward assuring that it benefits US workers and
consumers, but all too often, USTR has shown much more interest in using trade
policy to help special interest producer groups.
On July 16, 2009, I tested out the new "Ask the Ambassador" feature
on the revamped USTR website to ask Ambassador Kirk what USTR has done during
the Obama Administration regarding trade adjustment assistance, a program to
help US workers, firms, and communities hurt by international trade.
So far I have not received an answer to the question I
asked. Moreover, my question was not selected
for posting on the USTR blog. In the
three days after Monday when I wrote about the USTR blog on this website and noted how USTR
emphasizes photos of Ambassador Kirk rather than questions and answers from
citizens, I see that the Ambassador's staff has posted four new photos of him
(dated July 22). Apparently at USTR
these days, photos of the Ambassador’s travels is more important than answering
questions from the public.
Here is the question I asked the Ambassador through the USTR
Under 19 USC Sect. 2392, the Deputy US Trade Representative serves as chairman of the
Adjustment Assistance Coordinating Committee.
The Committee includes officials from the Departments of Labor, Commerce
and SBA. Although neglected by the Bush
Administration, this Committee can play a central role in improving the
capacity of the US
government to deliver vital adjustment benefits to workers, communities and
firms. I have two questions.
First, how often has this Committee
met since January 20, 2009? Second, will you commit to holding these
Committee meetings in public so that there will be more transparency and
I eagerly await an answer to my question about when USTR
will step up to meet its statutory responsibilities to coordinate the delivery
of trade adjustment assistance benefits.
As I pointed out in an article I wrote many years ago in the California Management Review, “Worker
Adjustment: The Missing Ingredient in Trade Policy” (see http://cmr.berkeley.edu/search/articleDetail.aspx?article=4686),
an effective worker adjustment program is a prerequisite for gaining greater
public support for open trade.
Sadly, the Obama Administration seems more interested in photo
opportunities rather than fulfilling its responsibilites to use trade policy to
help American workers.