Merkley Announces Trade Bill to Level the Playing Field for Oregon Manufacturing Companies and Create Middle Class Jobs

Oregon City, OR – Standing in front of the shuttered Blue Heron paper mill, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley today announced new legislation that would crack down on unfair trade practices, level the playing field for Oregon manufacturing companies, and help create middle class jobs in Oregon. 

The Level the Playing Field in Global Trade Act would ensure that sub-standard wages, workplace safety practices, and environmental protections are properly accounted for as unfair subsidies by foreign countries when calculating American duties intended to offset cheating. It also rewards companies that meet high standards on a global basis in wages, workplace safety and environmental compliance with streamlined trade and protection from enforcement actions. 

 “If we don’t make things in America, we won’t have a middle class in America,” said Merkley. “For far too long, Oregon’s factories and mills like Blue Heron and their workers have been hurt by foreign competition that lower their prices by cutting corners. We can and must bring back jobs to our shores by cracking down on unfair trade practices while rewarding companies that play by the rules and treat their workers well.” 

In the past decade, countries like China have reaped the benefits of trade deals without upholding their end of the bargain. This lack of accountability has contributed to the shuttering of tens of thousands of American factories and the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs. Oregon is the state with the greatest share of its economy tied to manufacturing, with 29% of its gross state product (GSP) coming from the manufacturing sector in 2011. As such, Oregon stands to gain or lose disproportionately from policies that help or hurt domestic manufacturing. 

Currently, U.S. companies and workers are at a trade disadvantage against companies and countries that do not pay adequate wages or maintain safety standards and environmental controls.  This results in countries and companies engaging in a “race to the bottom,” which puts U.S. manufacturing jobs at risk and is fundamentally unfair to American working families.  As the recent scandal in Bangladesh made clear, it’s also terribly destructive to workers around the world. 

Current American law and trade agreements prohibit “dumping” of products, where companies export products at prices below the cost of production or cheaper than they sell for in the home country, and allow the U.S. to impose duties to make the sale price in America reflect what the true cost would be without cheating.  The Level the Playing Field in Global Trade Act would, for the first time, recognize that egregious environmental and labor practices are a form of illegal subsidy that can be remedied by U.S. duties. It would also reward companies that adhere to high global standards by creating new trade and enforcement incentives.