Remarks of Ambassador Rob Portman, United States Trade Representative, IDB Donor Conference
We have had a good day here today. This is another step in a process that started with the beginning of negotiations on the CAFTA. At the same time, this is not the end of our cooperative work with Central America and the Dominican Republic to improve labor and environmental enforcement.I want to start by saying "thank you" to some of the people and organizations that are here today:To President Iglesias and the Inter-American Development Bank, for hosting today’s conference, and also providing technical support to the CAFTA countries during the development of the trade and labor ministers’ "white paper."
To the Ambassadors, Ministers, and Vice-Ministers from these countries, for their commitment to improve the protection of labor rights and environmental standards.
To the World Bank, for its loans to the CAFTA countries, and also for its important analytical work showing that this agreement will help reduce poverty and strengthen economies in this region.
To the International Labor Organization (ILO), for producing definitive studies of the labor laws of these countries; and also for agreeing to help benchmark and verify progress on labor enforcement.
To the other U.S. government agencies that are here today for their important roles in building the capacity of these countries.Finally, I want to thank the United States Congress, represented here today by Congressman Jim Kolbe. We consulted closely with Congress during the negotiations; the Senate has given its bi-partisan approval, and I am confident the House of Representatives will soon vote to approve CAFTA. I appreciate that Senator Jeff Bingaman, who has been a driving force behind our efforts to help these countries, wanted to be here but is in the middle of the conference on the Energy bill. I thank him for his leadership.The CAFTA has the strongest labor and environmental provisions of any trade agreement ever negotiated by the United States. CAFTA is light years ahead of NAFTA, more practical and effective than current law, and is far stronger than earlier agreements such as the Jordan FTA.Part of what makes CAFTA so ground-breaking is our commitment to link trade with aid to promote economic growth and freedom in this region.Today, we discussed how best to implement that commitment. We discussed the many resources that already exist, including: Millennium Challenge Corporation compacts with some of these countries; a multi-billion dollar loan pipeline from both the World Bank and IDB; as well as $10 million in new grants from the IDB.Perhaps most importantly – and I view this as today’s big achievement – we agreed on how to use $20 million in U.S. government assistance provided to the Administration by Congress in our FY05 foreign assistance account:$1 million to fight trade in endangered species and protect habitat, and also to start a public register to track the release of chemical pollutants, so that policymakers and the public can identify strategies to protect the environment.$7 million to modernize the labor justice systems in these countries – including training judges in the application of international labor standards, and reducing the backlog of labor cases in the courts;$7 million to strengthen the ability of Labor Ministries to enforce labor laws – primarily by beefing up their labor inspection capabilities;$3 million [CORRECTION - correct figure is $2 million] to fight gender discrimination – with a focus on eliminating sexual harassment in the maquila sectors, such as initiatives to enforce laws against pregnancy testing of female employees in apparel factories;$3 million to support the active participation of ILO officials in each of these countries to monitor and verify progress in improving labor law enforcement and working conditions.I am very pleased that ILO officials could join us today, so that we could begin to flesh out exactly how the ILO will fulfill this important role. We agreed that the $3 million in U.S. funding will allow the ILO to make transparent public reports, every six months, on labor standards enforcement in each of these countries – something that these countries had asked for in their White Paper.And today we discussed future years’ funding from the U.S. government. The Administration strongly supports the $40 million commitment to labor and environment capacity building in the FY 2006 foreign operations appropriations bill now being considered by Congress.In future fiscal years the Administration looks forward to proposing and supporting that same level of funding to support labor and environment capacity building in these countries.All together, the Bush Administration has committed $180 million through FY09 to help improve worker rights and environmental protection in this region, which is far more than any previous administration ever devoted to these countries.Ladies and gentlemen, we are here with hammers and nails, building the framework of cooperation to help workers in Central America. We are here doing the real work, focusing on real problems in these countries, and proposing real solutions to help.Meanwhile, the opponents of CAFTA remain stuck in the law library, parsing the texts of labor codes and focusing on the wrong issues. You see, the opponents misunderstand both the problem and the solution when it comes to labor rights in Central America. They ignore even worker-rights advocates in the region itself, who say that the problem is not with the laws on the books, but with the enforcement of those laws.And they offer no strategy except the defeat of a trade agreement that offers -- as former Costa Rican president and Nobel laureate Oscar Arias put it -- "the most important tool to speed… economic and social development" in Central America.The opponents will not succeed. I am confident that Members of Congress – on both sides of the aisle – will put aside partisan politics and put America’s national interests first. They will focus on our interests in strengthening young democracies, in supporting U.S. jobs, and in doing the right thing to help workers in Central America.
With CAFTA, and with the assistance that we are announcing today, I know that we will succeed. Thank you and Godspeed.