Merkley, Baldwin Introduce Trade Legislation to Level the Playing Field for American Manufacturing

WASHINGTON – Today, Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) introduced legislation that would crack down on unfair trade practices, level the playing field for American manufacturing companies, and help create middle class jobs. 

The Level the Playing Field in Global Trade Act would ensure that when other countries undercut American manufacturers by selling products produced under conditions where workers are paid sub-standard wages, or where workplace safety practices and environmental protections aren’t maintained, those failures are treated as unfair subsidies and their imports are penalized. The bill would require that new free trade agreements include binding, enforceable requirements that manufacturers operating in foreign countries pay adequate wages, maintain workplace safety standards, and abide by environmental standards. Companies or countries that fail to do so would have to pay antidumping penalties as they do for any other subsidy under current law. The bill 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. Global trade shouldn’t be a race to the bottom where countries win by allowing corporations to adopt abysmal labor and environmental practices,” said Merkley. “As we debate our future trade policy, we need to make sure that we’re not allowing the deck to be permanently stacked against American manufacturing. On a level playing field, American manufacturing and American workers can compete with the best in the world. Let’s create that level playing field by counting vastly sub-standard wage and environmental standards as exactly what they are: unfair subsidies that cost jobs and damage manufacturers who play by the rules.”

“In Wisconsin, our manufacturing economy has sustained our prosperity for generations but it has taken a lot of hits. That’s why I have made it a top priority to rebuild a strong “Made in Wisconsin” manufacturing sector that can create shared prosperity for our state,” Baldwin said. “In Wisconsin, we believe in hard work and I am committed to making sure that hard work is respected and rewarded. For decades, we’ve worked to make things: paper, engines, tools, and ships. That’s why I’m taking on unfair trade practices and policies and betting on American workers by creating an even playing field. I believe that if we our give workers a fair shot, we’ll compete and win against anyone.”

Over the last 15 years, 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.

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. It’s also terribly destructive to workers around the world, many of whom are forced to work in unsafe conditions for meager wages. 

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.  As Congress begins to debate potential Trade Promotion Authority legislation and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Level the Playing Field in Global Trade Act would, for the first time, require that any new trade deals considered under Trade Promotion Authority recognize egregious environmental and labor practices as 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 enforcement incentives.