My meeting with labor representatives in Guatemala highlights the need to enforce trade agreements

When I’m at town halls in Oregon, people ask me a lot, “Why are we making new trade deals when we aren’t enforcing the ones already on the books?"

These are real concerns, which I share. Holding our trading partners accountable has been a long-time priority of mine. So last week I traveled to Guatemala to meet with labor representatives about what the Central American Free Trade Act (CAFTA) has meant for workers there. 

What they told me is the trade deal has helped them, but not as much as it could have. Right now Guatemalan workers too often face poor workplace conditions, or are paid below the country’s minimum wage, despite Guatemala’s own laws and its commitments under CAFTA. When government inspectors show up at factories, they often are turned away and never follow through to make sure companies are following the rules.

This isn’t just an issue for Guatemalan workers. If companies are artificially cutting costs by mistreating workers there, it also hurts U.S. workers and businesses by undermining U.S. efforts to treat workers fairly.

Guatemala has taken a few good steps, like hiring inspectors, but it hasn’t done enough to follow through.

Under CAFTA, the U.S. can suspend Guatemala’s low tariff rates if it doesn’t live up to its side of the deal.

The good news is the U.S. Trade Representative is taking an enforcement action against Guatemala’s government, with a decision expected by the end of the year. The bad news is it took far too long for the U.S. to hold them accountable. 

I’m proud the Trade Promotion Authority bill I co-authored puts new responsibilities on our trade negotiators to strengthen labor standards and make enforcement quicker and more meaningful than any trade agreement in our country’s history. After this visit I’m more certain than ever that the Trans-Pacific Partnership must include enforceable labor standards that raise the bar for workers around the world. That’s the only deal I’ll support, and the only deal the president should accept.