It's no secret that our country is in the midst of a tough recession. Mainers feel it everyday. We read about the layoffs and see mills shutdown machines or cease operations. It's long past time that federal trade policies put our state and our country back on a level playing field with our foreign competitors. Our ability to create jobs and grow our economy depends on it.
In Maine, we've lost 23 percent of our manufacturing base since the passage of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Most of this loss is directly due to our nation's trade agreements. We know this because in order for affected workers to qualify for reemployment assistance, the United States Department of Labor must certify that they were laid off due to unfair foreign competition.
What concerns me right now is that our country has done little to nothing to change the way we approach trade. We know this job loss is happening and we should act. States like Maine that have experienced the negative affects of trade understand that we must change. But so far, Washington hasn't listened.
The past administration continued the NAFTA approach that has led to jobs being shifted away from Maine and to our trading partners. The current administration hasn't done much to change past policies. I remain hopeful that the administration will support the trade reforms that they talked about in last fall's election.
But there is an indication that folks in Washington are finally taking notice of the need to update and reform our trade polices.
On June 24th, I introduced a bill called the "Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act." This bill would revamp U.S. trade policy to make sure that our workers and businesses are no longer put at a competitive disadvantage. It would require a review of trade pacts, establish standards and protect workers.
A crucial component of the TRADE Act says that the people should have a voice in our trade policy. Gone are the days of "fast track" trade negotiating authority, when trade agreements were negotiated by an administration in secret and then presented to Congress with only the option of a "yes" or "no" vote. This practice has led to dangerous side deals and a sidestepping of core concerns of American workers and businesses.
At the end of the day, the TRADE Act would help level the playing field for Maine and millions more throughout our nation. It's doesn't say "No" to trade. It offers a new way forward that will help make sure our country doesn't enter into agreements that will cost more American jobs and businesses their livelihoods.
But what's significant is the support it has received. Last year when I first introduced the bill, there were 74 cosponsors. As I write this, this year's bill has 108 cosponsors and that number is increasing everyday.
At the end of the day, one of our nation's greatest challenges is to create new rules for globalization that ensure economic security and the creation and preservation of quality U.S. jobs. I support trade between the United States and countries across the globe. But our current system has not worked, has not met past promises, and has not served the interests of a majority of people across our country, or the world. The TRADE Act sets out what my colleagues and I in Congress support – it is a roadmap for what we are for. I am hopeful that it helps put Maine and our country back on a level playing field with our foreign competitors.