US trade representative Katherine Tai stressed in a speech Thursday that America is focusing on protecting workers through trade policy and will try to push trading partners to raise wages, to allow collective bargaining and to end forced labor practices.
The speech, Ms. Tai’s first major political speech, underscored the Biden administration’s goal of empowering workers and minimizing the negative effects of globalization, which has encouraged companies to move jobs and factories to the foreigner in search of cheaper labor and materials.
What is less clear is how the administration will, in practice, achieve these objectives.
“For a very long time, our trade policies have been shaped by people who are used to looking at the macroeconomic situation – the big economic sectors,” Ms. Tai said in an interview before the speech, which she gave at the conference. ‘an AFL-CIO. town hall. “We have lost sight of the impact of these policies, the truly real and direct impact they can have on the lives of ordinary people and on the livelihoods of our workers.
Ms Tai, who spoke from prepared remarks, described the administration’s push as decades-long trying to correct a trade policy that put corporate profits ahead of workers and helped erode the power of workers in states. -United.
“A worker-centered trade policy means addressing the damage that American workers and industries have suffered due to competition with trading partners who do not allow workers to exercise their internationally recognized labor rights,” he said. she declared. “This includes the fight against worker abuse and the promotion and support of those rights that push us towards dignified work and shared prosperity: the right to organize and to bargain collectively. “
Ms. Tai pointed out that the United States is already enforcing worker protection in the new North American trade agreement and is trying to tackle forced labor in the fishing industry at the World Trade Organization.
The Biden administration on Wednesday made its second request in a month for Mexico to examine whether workers at two separate auto plants have been denied collective bargaining rights agreed to under the US-Mexico-Canada deal .
“These enforcement measures are important,” Tai said in her speech, noting that the aim is to “protect the rights of workers, especially those in low-wage industries who are vulnerable to exploitation.”
Last month, the administration submitted a proposal to the World Trade Organization to reduce “harmful subsidies to fishing activities that may be associated with the use of forced labor, such as illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. “.
Still, it remains to be seen how – or if – the United States will actually push for higher labor standards outside of North America. Ms. Tai’s speech did not directly say how the administration would try to encourage some of its larger trading partners, such as China, to adjust their trading practices.
When asked what the plans were for other continents, Ms. Tai said, “In all directions where we have opportunities to formulate trade policies, we see opportunities to bring this worker-centered spirit to the table. our work.
Regarding China, she suggested the goal was to work with other countries that have similar economic structures to the United States, partnering with allies to “put us on a competitive basis. more solid, to compete for the industries of the future ”.