All blog posts related to the issue: International Trade
  • Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International Provide Ebola Status Report to Sen. Wyden

    Oregon-based groups describe their work fighting Ebola; offer perspective on the threat the disease poses

    With the swirl of uncertainty, anxiety and saturation news coverage surrounding Ebola, Sen. Wyden decided to seek out experts to learn more about the disease and the efforts underway to combat it both here and overseas.

    Ron didn’t have to go very far. The Portland area is home to Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International – two world-class organizations that are on the frontlines in the battle against Ebola in West Africa.

    On Thursday he met in Portland with Craig Redmond, senior vice president of Programs at Mercy Corps and Joe DiCarlo, vice president of programs at Medical Teams International.

    Both these organizations have staff on the ground in West Africa doing difficult and heroic work under very tough conditions. The work they and others are doing in this battle cannot be praised and recognized enough.

    It also means Redmond and DiCarlo have valuable first-hand knowledge of what’s working and what’s not as we battle the disease. They know what changes are needed and most importantly, they can offer clear-headed suggestions for how to talk about this serious public health threat.

    What they told Sen. Wyden only reinforced some important points:

    • Ebola is dangerous but the likelihood of people in everyday life in the United States becoming infected is miniscule since the only way to contract Ebola is by coming into direct contact with body fluids of an infected person. The recent cases in Texas have highlighted changes in hospital protocol, education and infection control that should add additional protections and assurance that the disease is being contained.

    • And while we must be vigilant and fully prepared, people living in Oregon need to keep in mind some absolute facts: There are no direct flights to or from countries affected by the outbreak, which adds additional layers of security from the disease.

    • The federal government is providing more robust screening of passengers from countries affected by Ebola. In the very unlikely event that Ebola reaches Oregon, state and local health departments have been working closely with the CDC to establish effective quarantine and isolation procedures.

    A key challenge for Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International is training community health workers in the affected countries with a special focus on prevention and getting vital health information on the ground to trusted community leaders.

    Both organizations also stressed the need to make sure badly needed supplies are not held up by Liberian officials in Liberian ports. As Chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Sen. Wyden told officials he would follow up to see what steps must be taken to loosen that bottleneck.

    Solving the bottleneck is important here because, while the cases in the United States are an alarming wake-up call, health officials - including one from Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International - agree that the way to end the epidemic and protect us all is by extinguishing it at the source in West Africa.

    Mercy Corps, for example, is providing crucial assistance in helping educate people in Liberia about the best ways to respond to Ebola and protect themselves. Public health experts agree that this is essential to breaking the chain of infection.

    Medical Teams International, meanwhile, is providing medical supplies and training for community health workers to help prevent the spread of the virus. This is equally crucial to stopping the chain of infection and to stabilize the populations in West Africa as much as possible until the full weight of the international response is in place.

    After the briefing, Sen. Wyden met with a standing-room only gathering of about 125 workers from both organizations, fielding questions for nearly an hour.

    He told the gathering that he was there to “listen and learn” in a non-politicized setting.

    And he praised both Oregon-based groups for their heroic work and the stellar reputations that both carry worldwide.

    "Your organizations are both synonymous with trust," Wyden said. “All of you in your program make us so proud because this is a chance for Oregonians to help and for Oregonians to send a message about what our values are all about.

    Asked about the potential that a downturn in the stock market might spark economic uncertainty, Sen. Wyden said to loud applause that he will preserve the charitable deduction - crucial to organizations like Mercy Corps and Medical Teams International - as part of tax reform.

    It is not a loophole,” he said. “It is a lifeline.

  • Working for Oregon: Spotlight on Health care, Trade & Taxes

    Traveling throughout Oregon during August, Ron talked with folks about his new role as chairman of the Senate Finance Committee and what it means for Oregon. As chair, he can focus even more on crafting policies to create a strong and diverse economy that will generate good-paying jobs, which give all Americans a fair shot at success. In Oregon this means policies that create economic conditions that encourage higher wages and new jobs in fields like technology and trade. Technology is vital to Oregon’s economy --  the tech sector employs more than 60,000 people in the state.  At TechFestNW, Ron outlined the economic impact that NSA mass surveillance has had on the tech industry and the need to create new privacy protections for consumers and businesses. 

    One of the most important tools for creating conditions that will grow Oregon’s economy with good-paying jobs, and to expand the middle-class is the tax code. In Talent, Ron heard from employees and owners at Brammo – makers of cutting-edge electric motorcycles –on how tax credits for electric vehicles and research and development are allowing them to expand and hire more Oregonians.

    Brammo’s leaders also said it is crucial to pry open new markets in Asia and Europe to continue expanding their southern Oregon business. Wyden is working to bulldoze barriers to Oregon products overseas and help companies like Brammo thrive.

    In Portland, Ron visited Albina Head Start’s newest facility where New Market Tax Credits will allow this fantastic program to continue providing its early childhood education services to low-income families.

    Better care for Oregon’s Seniors

    Ron also visited Central Oregon to hear from health care leaders and consumers about their difficulties with the current Medicare system. Their comments at the Bend forum dovetailed with Ron’s bill to improve the Medicare system for recipients with multiple chronic conditions, such as cancer, heart disease, diabetes or Alzheimer’s disease. The bipartisan “Better Care, Lower Cost Act of 2014” would help Medicare recipients, especially in rural areas, get better coordinated care while reducing expenses in the Medicare system.

    Protecting communities from oil trains

    Ongoing concerns over oil train safety prompted Ron and Senator Merkley to meet with first responders and others in the Willamette Valley who’d be responsible if there were an accident involving the transportation of oil. At the forum in Eugene, both senators heard local officials express worries about  thousands of gallons of flammable oil moving through Oregon communities without any notice from railroads. And both senators pledged they would fight for transparency in new federal rules, to ensure local fire departments and first responders have the information they need to keep communities as safe as possible.

  • 21st Century Trade Policy Must Give All Americans a Chance to Get Ahead

    As delivered by Senator Wyden at the American Apparel & Footwear Association Conference on April 10, 2014.

    Today I want to talk about how trade in the 21st century can create good middle-class jobs and expand what I call the winners’ circle in our country.

    It starts with the fact that American trade policy has always been a story of adaptation and change. Fifty-two years ago, President John Kennedy went before Congress to deliver an address on his vision for international trade. The historical context of that period is apparent throughout the speech.

    President Kennedy rightly saw international trade as more than something that was just an isolated economic matter. To President Kennedy, trade was in effect an inextricable aspect of foreign policy and an important front in the clash between free nations and communism. What President Kennedy was seeking to do was to promote the strength and unity of the West and fortify the relationship between the United States and the European Common Market. Of course those were days when that was a powerful economic force that was growing. President Kennedy knew American businesses and workers had a great chance to benefit from Europe’s growth, and that would create new jobs at home. It was President Kennedy’s judgment, and a correct one in my view that required adaptability and in order to have that American trade policy had to be nimble, and it had to reflect those times. I thought the president summarized it very well when he said, “A new American trade initiative is needed to meet the challenges and opportunities of a rapidly changing world economy.”

    Today’s challenges and opportunities, more than any other time in my lifetime, come down to creating more good-paying, middle-class jobs. It’s my view that every trade discussion, every single trade discussion, must now focus on how trade policy can be a springboard to high-skill, high-wage American jobs. Jobs in innovative fields that didn’t exist before the digital era. Jobs in high-tech manufacturing that can’t be easily outsourced. Jobs that give Americans a ladder into the middle class. Here’s the reality folks, or the one that I hear at every town meeting - I have another coming up in a week or so - millions of middle-class Americans simply don’t believe trade can help them get ahead, or they worry their voices aren’t being heard. A 21st century trade policy has to meet the needs of those who are middle class today and those who aspire to be middle class tomorrow. On my watch, I can tell you, those voices are not going to get short shrift in the Senate Finance Committee.

    My basic philosophy with respect to trade is I want to see Americans grow and make things here, innovate and add value to them here, and ship them somewhere, whether in containers, on airplanes, or in electronic bits and bytes. 

    My view is there are opportunities for the U.S. to do that in trade agreements with nations across the Pacific and in Europe, but it is going to take fresh policies – adapted to the times – to make those trade agreements work for all Americans.                                                       

    I want to be very clear: only trade agreements that include several ironclad protections based on today’s great challenges can pass through Congress. I am not going to accept or advance anything less.

    First, trade agreements must be enforceable, and not just in name only. The United States has to follow through on enforcement at home and around the world. If it doesn’t, trade agreements will not deliver on their job-creating potential and the economic winners’ circle, instead of expanding, could actually shrink.

    A World Trade Organization ruling that came out just last week showed a great example of enforcement done right. China’s restrictions on rare earth mineral exports have done real damage to American businesses and consumers and could cost our country jobs across a wide array of industries.

    Manufacturers of rechargeable batteries for hybrid and electric vehicles, MRI machines, night-vision goggles and many others took a hit. My friend Leo Gerard from the United Steelworkers will tell you the impact China’s restrictions have had on his members’ jobs.  So the U.S. stood up and challenged China in the WTO, and the WTO ruled in America’s favor – making clear that as a member of the global trading system, the Chinese have to play by the rules.

    With American jobs on the line, all trade agreements ought to be enforced with that kind of vigor. Enforcement has to happen without hesitation over politics or other kinds of secondary considerations.

    Right now, for example, Customs often appears to focus on security at the expense of its trade mission. Fake NIKE shoes and counterfeit computer chips with a fake Intel logo too often make their way past America’s border agents unnoticed. Foreign companies have evaded the trade remedy laws that protect American workers, like those in the solar and steel industries. A 21st century trade policy can’t work if the cops at the border aren’t doing an adequate job on the beat.

    Second, trade agreements must promote digital trade and help foster innovation in areas where America leads, like cloud computing. When President Kennedy made his pitch for a modern trade policy to Congress five decades ago, nobody could have imagined what the digital world would become, or how important the Internet would be to the global economy. Even when the North American Free Trade Agreement entered into force in 1994, a lot of trusted economic thinkers had doubts about how big a role the Internet would play in people’s lives.

    Fortunately, our country today enjoys a major trade surplus in digital trade that fuels the growth of high-quality, high-skill jobs. Twenty-first century trade agreements have to preserve this American advantage. They must prevent unnecessary restrictions on data flows or requirements to localize data and servers. Make no mistake about it, these NSA policies have harmed the American brand in parts of this debate and it’s something that I’m going to focus on changing, not just from the Finance Committee, but from the Intelligence Committee as well. They must include assurances that Internet companies have no more legal liability in foreign markets than they do in the U.S.  There is a reason that America is home to the leading technology and Internet companies: our legal framework promotes innovation and the digital economy.

    Preserving this legal framework at home, and promoting it abroad, protects and preserves good paying jobs -- and not just jobs at big technology companies like Google or Intel or IBM. It helps the self-employed: the craftsmen on Etsy and collectors on Ebay, and it helps auto workers, farmers, ranchers, and healthcare providers. Why? Because all of these industries, every one of them, rely on an open global Internet that connects them with foreign consumers and suppliers of digital goods and digital services.

    Similarly, provisions like the PIPA and SOPA bill that would do so much damage to the Internet or result in its censorship have no place in trade agreements. I want everyone to know that I’ll do everything in my power on the Finance Committee to keep them out of future agreements. I welcomed Ambassador Froman’s statement in February that he is committed to keeping them out of TPP. It’s as simple as this: the Internet, which is really the shipping lane of the 21st century has to be kept open and free.

    Third, trade agreements must combat the new breed of predatory practices that distort trade and investment and cost American jobs. Chinese state-owned enterprises, for example, don’t have the risk or borrowing costs that their American competitors do.

    China’s indigenous innovation policies too often undermine American innovators by requiring them to relocate intellectual property. And currency manipulation undercuts American autoworkers and a number of our manufacturers here at home. Again, these are practices that cost good American jobs. They have the same harmful effects on American exports as any other trade barrier, so modern agreements – including the TPP – have to give our country the tools to level the playing field.

    Fourth, some nations simply don’t share America’s commitment to labor and the environment, so when the U.S. doesn’t lead the way with strong standards and enforcement, trade agreements fall short. Commitments on these issues have to be core parts of trade agreements, rather than something like a side deal that’s just coasting along for the ride. This is one area where the U.S. has made progress. Twenty years ago, many considered including any labor or environmental rules in trade agreements to be unreasonable. Today, it is widely recognized that including strong disciplines on both – with equally strong enforcement – is an imperative. People on all sides of the trade debate should more openly acknowledge the progress in these areas and the hard work that went into getting those reforms. But as the situation in Colombia shows, there’s more work to be done. Under my watch, TPP will be much, much different than older agreements in these areas.

    When the United States leads on trade, it is my view it can raise the bar for labor in ways that improve conditions for millions of workers around the world. The TPP is an opportunity to establish improved labor rights in places like Vietnam and Malaysia, but it’s going to take strong enforcement.

    Just like with labor, trade agreements also have to do more to promote environmental protections. By setting and enforcing high standards, the U.S. can protect American jobs from countries that take a hands-off approach to environmental protection. The Trans-Pacific Partnership must put an end to subsidized and illegal fishing that threatens our oceans and stop trade in stolen timber and wood products in countries like Malaysia and Vietnam. The TPP also has to target illegal trafficking in wildlife. When it comes to environment, strong enforcement is a prerequisite for a Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement that can pass Congress.

    Finally, agreements must be ambitious, opening foreign markets and helping U.S. workers, farmers, manufacturers and service providers increase exports. And trade agreements need to be equally ambitious on footwear and apparel. They need to reflect those industries as they are in this century – not as they were in the last one.

    Trade agreements also need to be part of a broader framework, including Trade Adjustment Assistance, that moves exports more efficiently to foreign markets and gives more Americans a chance to climb the economic ladder. There are people who argue that the benefits of trade deals have only gone to some. I argue that if we work to get better, more modern agreements that reflect the lessons of history, we can get trade deals that expand the winners’ circle and help revitalize the middle class.

    So you’ve just gotten a short summary of what I think a modern trade deal should look like. I want to wrap up with a couple of comments about how all of this should move through Congress, what negotiations should look like and the issues I think are also very much on your mind with respect to what’s ahead.

    When it comes to trade talks, in my town hall meetings, people want to know what’s being negotiated. In my view the public has a right to know what the policy choices are. For its part, Congress has a constitutional responsibility to tell the President and the U.S. Trade Representative what they need to accomplish in trade deals, which it has traditionally done by passing trade promotion authority, or “fast-track.” I believe what’s needed to accomplish these things is different from a fast-track, or a “no-track,” and this afternoon I’d like to call it a “smart-track.”

    A smart-track will hold trade negotiators more accountable to the Congress, more accountable to the American people, and help ensure that trade agreements respond to their concerns of our people and their priorities, and not just to special interest groups. It will include procedures to get high-standard agreements through Congress, and procedures that enable Congress to right the ship if trade negotiators get off course. But to get better trade agreements, there must be more transparency in negotiations. The Congress cannot fulfill its constitutional duty on trade if the public doesn’t know what’s at stake or how to weigh in.        

    The public needs to know that somebody at USTR is committed to shedding more light on trade negotiations and ensuring that the American people have a strong voice in trade policy – a voice that is actually heard.

    Going forward in the days and weeks ahead, I am going to work with my colleagues and stakeholders on a proposal that accomplishes these goals and attracts more bipartisan support. As far as I’m concerned, substance is going to drive the timeline.          

    Some would like to lay blame for lack of support for the TPA proposal recently introduced in Congress at the doorstep of the White House.  The president and Ambassador Froman are, frankly, having a difficult time selling a product that members are not thrilled about. Policy matters, and arbitrary timelines won’t work. Instead of casting blame, our time would be better spent rolling up our sleeves and getting to work on policies that expand the winners’ circle for our people. Expanding the winner’s circle is going to mean that Americans see a trade agreement that they actually want to pass. That will build more bipartisan support for the president’s trade priorities.

    I’ve been the chairman of the Senate Finance Committee for 22 working days. You’ve got almost all the answers that have been around for 22 working days. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few weeks listening to what committee members have to say about trade and their priorities. They’ve been sharing their views and suffice it to say there are some strong feelings. I can tell you what unites members of the Finance Committee is a strong desire to strengthen our economy, increasing our competitiveness in tough global markets, creating more good-paying jobs, and in a phrase you’ll hear me talk a lot about because it applies to trade, it applies to tax policy: economics policy that gives everybody in America a chance to get ahead. That’s my view of what trade and our economic policy ought to be about and when done right, trade policy can accomplish that. I’m sure everybody in this room shares that view.