Main menu

Representative Crowley on Trade and Social Justice in the Americas

December 05, 2007

Speaking at AS/COA's 7th Annual Latin America Conference, Congressman Joseph Crowley (D-NY) emphasized the importance of trade and investment for boosting U.S. relations with Latin America. "We are finally waking up to the importance of economic and social development in our own neighborhood," said Crowley. Read the text of his remarks below.

Thank you for inviting me to speak to the 7th Annual Latin America Conference focused on Social Investment and Development in the Americas.

My colleagues and I in Congress under a Democratic majority have been presented with a great opportunity to expand our friendship and influence in a region that in my opinion has seen little assistance this decade for a myriad of reasons.

But through trade and investment we have a new opportunity.

The Democratic Caucus was left out of the negotiations for the trade agreements with Colombia, Panama, and Peru, but the strength of our majority was felt when President Bush realized the need to negotiate a new trade agenda with Charlie Rangel, Sander Levin, and Nancy Pelosi to see these agreements move forward.

The new trade agenda was born out of a framework that will ensure our trade pacts with other nations respects laborers—both here and abroad, that respects the environment—both here and abroad, and that respects our nation’s future economic success. 

Specifically, the Democratic majority achieved the long sought after goal that our trade agreements will include enforceable labor and environmental standards.

This new framework for establishing trade agreements illustrates how Democrats understand the benefits of free trade, but the need for it to be conducted on a fair and level playing field. 

The new trade policy achieves the core Democratic principles and goes far beyond the provisions in any previous free trade agreement.

All pending free trade agreements will be amended to incorporate key Democratic priorities and will be fully enforceable.

Key demands that were met are fundamental labor and environmental protections included in trade agreements that are fully enforceable.

After years of opposition, the Administration and Republicans in Congress agreed to include in the text of the agreement the five ILO worker rights:

  • the rights to association
  • collectively bargaining
  • prohibitions on child labor
  • prohibitions slave labor
  • prohibitions discrimination

For the first time, environmental standards cannot be lowered and will be fully enforceable in free trade agreements.

The agreed upon framework expands access to life-saving medicines in the developing countries.

The trade agreements with Colombia and Panama present additional, distinct obstacles that should be addressed. This is framework is not carte blanche for every trade agreement.

The framework is about leveling the playing field for American workers, farmers and businesses and promoting a trade policy that advances U.S. economic interests around the world.

Democrats will continue to work across the aisle to make sure our country stays at the forefront of this globalized world.

This bipartisan framework will keep America as a global economic leader and a champion for the principles Americans believe in.

When Speaker Pelosi stood before the press on May 10th to announce the agreement, she said that Democrats were not the party of protection.

Just a few weeks ago we proved that by passing the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement with close to a majority of the Democratic caucus supporting.

This is an agreement that will benefit both of our countries and has what I see as the honor of being the first of the four agreements that Congress can act on under the Presidents now expired Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

As a New Yorker it’s not hard for me to see the economic value all three of these agreements will have for my city and state but problems still exist that are sometimes beyond any of our control.

We still have two other agreements in our hemisphere, Colombia and Panama, which have problems that must be dealt with before Congress can bring these agreements to the floor for an up or down vote.

Colombia still must deal with the issue of violence and the impunity that exist in the society.  During a visit to Colombia in October, I had the privilege of sitting down with President Uribe and asked him if it was fair to say that impunity still exists in Colombia.

He responded, Congressman—it still exists but it is no longer tolerated.  This statement says a lot about a man who has worked to transform his country away from paramilitary death squads and narco-traffickers.

We also discussed the economic and psychological impacts on Colombia if they were left behind Peru and Panama.

These are all things that Congress must take into account as we continue to move forward with the trade agenda.

The agreement with Panama should have been the easiest but they have a 600 pound gorilla who was elected by his peers to a very important position.  I cannot imagine this agreement moving until this gentleman’s colleagues make a decision about his future.

This is not an issue the Congress should dictate; instead the Panamanians should deal with it as an internal mater.

The passage of free trade agreements are not the only way to assist our neighbors, my friend and the Chairman of the Western Hemisphere Subcommittee in the House Foreign Affairs Committee, Eliot Engel, introduced the Social Investment and Economic Development Act for the Americas of 2007 and I am proud to be a cosponsor of the bill.

After many years of neglect, I believe the legislation is the starting point for less then stellar record the United States has in the hemisphere.

We are finally waking up to the importance of economic and social development in our own neighborhood under Chairman Engel’s leadership.

Social justice for Latin Americans should be one of our country's priorities.

In 2005, almost 40% of the region’s population—some 209 million people—were living in poverty. And Latin America continues to have a higher level of income inequality than any other region in the world.

Nearly three-quarters of Hondurans live in poverty as do over 60% of Bolivians and Paraguayans. Just 600 miles off the coast of Florida in Haiti, an estimated 78% of the population lives on less than $2 a day.

And I would be remiss not to mention that poverty in Latin America disproportionately affects Afro-Latinos and indigenous people.

With such grim statistics, it is shocking to me to still see substantial cuts in core development assistance to the region in the President’s FY 2008 budget.

I was particularly disheartened to see that the President reduced aid to Brazil to a mere $2 million in his FY 2008 budget, even though Brazil is home to 50% of the people in Latin America defined as poor and has 35 million people living in dire poverty.

The Social Investment and Economic Development Fund legislation will allow the United States to step up as a real partner with our neighbors to the South. Once and for all, we will be able to help our friends in the hemisphere to curb poverty and reduce longtime inequalities.

The Social Investment and Economic Development Fund marks a new day in hemispheric relations.

I have been speaking for a while now so I will end here and open it up to any questions you might have.

Thank you to everyone here this morning.