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USTR Should Devote More Attention to Worker Issues

[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 (see, 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

The USTR 100 Days Progress Report (dated May 1 posted at 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 website:

“Mr. Ambassador:

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 accountability?

Thank you.

Steve Charnovitz”

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, 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. 

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