Warren Expands Criticism of Obama’s Trade Agenda to Labor Rights

Senator Elizabeth Warren expanded her criticism of President Barack Obama’s trade agenda, arguing on Monday that the U.S. has consistently failed to enforce rules promoting labor rights abroad.

Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat, released a staff memo outlining “decades of failure” by U.S. administrations to ensure that American trading partners live up to promises in free-trade agreements.

“The history of these agreements betrays a harsh truth: that the actual enforcement of labor provisions of past U.S. FTAs lags far behind the promise,” according to the memo.

The criticism, which echos years of complaints by labor unions opposed to U.S. trade policy, is Warren’s latest effort to torpedo what Obama has made a central goal for his final two years in office. The Senate this week will consider a bill Warren opposes to give Obama new authority he said is needed to complete a 12-nation free trade deal in the Asia-Pacific region.

Obama and the U.S. Trade Representative, Michael Froman, have argued that labor provisions in the pact, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, help make it “the most progressive trade agreement in history.”

Warren on May 5 said giving Obama added authority will help Wall Street roll back rules imposed on banks after the 2008 financial crisis. In February, she wrote an opinion article for the Washington Post blasting the use of investor-state dispute settlements in trade deals.

Obama has said Warren and other critics are misleading the public about the trade deals.

Labor Protections

Labor rules in trade deals are designed to ensure that nations don’t win business by degrading conditions for workers or unions. Warren’s staff in 16 pages argued that successive American administrations have failed to enforce the labor protections in deals with Central America, Colombia or Peru.

The report said the Labor Department has taken “slow and ineffective” action to respond to complaints that countries aren’t abiding by the rules. In other cases, the U.S. has ignored evidence of forced work and child labor, two practices that Warren’s staff said are supposed to be stamped out by trade pacts.

“We have two decades of experience with free trade agreements under both Democratic and Republican presidents,” according to the memo. “Supporters of these agreements have always promised that they contain tough standards to protect workers.”

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