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Democrats Blast Kirk Over Trade Policy

Just a week after landing their first meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Ron Kirk, lawmakers in favor of a new trade policy on Thursday bashed Kirk for passing over their proposals while actively promoting new trade enforcement measures.

During a speech to Pittsburgh steelworkers, Kirk announced new trade enforcement measures aimed at providing manufacturers with “the better-paying jobs and economic growth— promised by existing trade agreements. The measures include a new focus on trade barriers affecting agriculture and manufacturing, and a commitment to more closely observing foreign labor practices.

House Democrats pushing for a trade overhaul blasted Kirk’s remarks as being more of the same.

“Ambassador Kirk’s words sound fine, but we’ve heard all of this before and nothing is ever done for workers,— said Rules Chairwoman Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.), a member of the House Trade Working Group.

Slaughter pointed to a manufacturer in her district that was forced out of business, despite the International Trade Commission ruling that the company was a victim of Chinese dumping and despite calls on the administration to enforce the ruling.

“They always say they will step up enforcement, and it simply gets left behind,— Slaughter said.

“A commitment to enforcement, either in words or in deeds, is not a substitute for fair trade agreements. It is critical that we forge a new direction on trade that first and foremost protects American jobs,— said Rep. Phil Hare (D-Ill.), also a Trade Working Group member.

Hare said Kirk could “begin this process— by tossing out pending trade agreements left over from the Bush administration and by endorsing legislation by Trade Working Group Chairman Mike Michaud (D-Maine) that would require future trade agreements to have strong labor and environmental standards. That bill has 115 co-sponsors, including several committee chairmen and ahandful of Republicans.

“I look forward to working with Ambassador Kirk toward that end,— Hare said. Meanwhile, lawmakers who play key roles in trade policy — House Ways and Means Chairman Charlie Rangel (D-N.Y.) and Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) — praised Kirk’s remarks.

Rangel called Kirk’s announcement “a welcome step in getting U.S. trade policy back on track.—

Baucus said Kirk’s remarks “echoed my longstanding position that strong enforcement is key to opening markets and ensuring a level playing field for American farmers, ranchers, workers and firms.—

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