The United States Trade Representative, Katherine Tai, emphasized in a speech on Thursday that the US is focused on protecting workers through trade policy and that it wants trading partners to raise wages, allow collective bargaining, and end forced labor practices. will try to do.
The speech, Ms Tai’s first important policy address, highlighted the Biden administration’s goal of re-empowering workers and mitigating the negative effects of globalization, which has forced companies to move jobs and factories offshore in search of cheap labor and materials. encouraged to.
It is less clear how the administration will, in practice, accomplish those goals.
“For too long, our trade policies have been shaped by people who are accustomed to looking at the macro picture – the big economic sectors,” Ms. Tai said in an interview before the speech, which she delivered at the AFL-CIO was. the town hall. “We have lost the impact of these policies, the very real and direct effects that they can have on the lives of regular people and on the livelihoods of our workers.”
Ms. Tai, who spoke to prepared comments, portrayed the administration’s pressure as an attempt to correct decades of trade policy that put company profits ahead of workers and helped reduce the labor force in the United States.
“A worker-centered trade policy meant to address the damage that American workers and industries have caused by competing with trading partners that do not allow workers to exercise their internationally recognized labor rights, ” He said. “This includes standing up to workers’ mistreatment and promoting and supporting the rights that lead us to dignified work and shared prosperity: the right to organize and bargain collectively.”
Ms Tai emphasized that the United States is already implementing worker protections in the new North American trade agreement and trying to stop forced labor in the fishing industry at the WTO.
On Wednesday, the Biden administration made its second request in a month for Mexico to review whether workers Two different auto facilities Collective bargaining rights were being denied under the terms of the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.
“These enforcement actions matter,” Ms Tai said in her speech, adding that it aims to “protect the rights of workers, particularly those in low-wage industries that are vulnerable to exploitation.”
administration last month submitted a proposal For the World Trade Organization aimed at curbing “harmful subsidies for fishing activities that may be associated with the use of forced labor, such as illegal, unrestricted and unregulated fishing”.
Still, it remains to be seen how – or whether – the United States will effectively push for stronger labor standards outside of North America. Ms Tai’s speech did not directly describe how the administration would try to encourage some of its biggest trading partners, such as China, to adjust trade practices.
Asked what the plans are for other continents, Ms. Tai said, “In every direction where we have opportunities to formulate business policies, we see opportunities to bring this worker-centred spirit into our work.”
When it comes to China, she suggested that the goal was to work with other countries, which have similar economic structures to the United States, with allies to “find themselves as strong competitors to compete for the industries of the future”. level up.”