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Trade Subcommittee Chairman Levin Warns Deals at Risk Without Worker Protections

House Ways and Means trade subcommittee Chairman Sander Levin (D-Mich.) warned on Monday that Congress could reject the Bush administration’s trade agreements if they do not contain worker protection provisions.

“If they maintain the present course, they won’t pass,” Levin said today in a speech at the Center for American Progress, referring to three pending Latin American Free Trade Agreements with Peru, Columbia and Panama, and a fourth bilateral trade agreement with South Korea.

Levin argued that the Latin America agreements must be reworked to incorporate enforceable worker protections put forth by the International Labor Organization, (ILO). The Bush Administration has opposed additional protections, arguing current trade deals already provide enough protection for overseas workers and new ones would hinder global commerce.

Levin meanwhile predicted the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement would fail without major changes on market access concerns. He’s particularly concerned about access to Korean markets for U.S. automotive makers and automotive parts suppliers, many of which are based in his Michigan district.

The U.S.-Korea deal covers nearly $100 billion worth of trade between the U.S. and South Korea.

“Korea has had an economic iron curtain against [accepting United States] exports, especially automotive” products, Levin said

Levin also said there was no rush to renew trade promotion authority, which gives the executive branch broad authority to negotiate trade deals and gives Congress only 90 days to approve or reject a trade deal without any changes.

The current trade promotion authority ends in July and the Bush administration has pushed for its renewal.

“There’ll be time” to consider renewing fast track, Levin said. “Let’s not put the cart before the horse.”

Similarly, Levin spoke in general terms about the political challenges poised in the ongoing Doha round of World Trade Organization negotiations over agricultural products.

“I’ve tried to spell it out. Agriculture is an extremely difficult issue. It’s going to require a return to bipartisanship,” he added.

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