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Merkley at abandoned factory, seeks level playing field


Sen. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., stood in front of the abandoned Blue Heron paper mill in Oregon City on Friday to highlight legislation he introduced Thursday to crack down on unfair trade practices, level the playing field for American manufacturing companies and help create middle-class jobs.

“Just a few years ago, the factory behind me was employing hundreds of Oregonians and making paper here in America,” Merkley said. “Now it is empty, and those Oregonians who once worked here are out of work.”

“This underscores how important it is that we have trade policies that create a level playing field for American manufacturing. We must stop providing subsidies to companies that ship jobs overseas.”

Merkley was joined at Fri day ‘s event by Oregonians who used to work in paper mills in Oregon but saw their mills shut down, dismantled and shipped overseas to countries that didn’t require safety measures or environmental protections and where workers were paid far less.

“It was tough to watch the impact that the closing of the paper mill had on our community and the families that counted on those jobs,” said Don Drager, former Albany Paper Mill worker.

“And to know that our jobs were being shipped overseas to a place that didn’t care about worker safety, living wages, or putting limits on vast amounts of pollution made it even more difficult.”

The Level the Playing Field in Global Trade Act would ensure that when other countries undercut American manufacturers by selling products produced under conditions where workers are paid sub-standard wages, or where workplace safety practices and environmental protections aren’t maintained, those failures are treated as unfair subsidies and their imports are penalized.

The bill would require that new free trade agreements include binding, enforceable requirements that manufacturers operating in foreign countries pay adequate wages, maintain workplace safety standards, and abide by environmental standards.

Companies or countries that fail to do so would have to pay anti-dumping penalties, as they do for any other subsidy under current law.

The bill also rewards companies that meet high standards on a global basis in wages, workplace safety and environmental compliance with streamlined trade and protection from enforcement actions.

Over the last 15 years, countries like China have reaped the benefits of trade deals without upholding their end of the bargain, the senator said. This lack of accountability has contributed to the shuttering of tens of thousands of American factories and the loss of millions of American manufacturing jobs.

Currently, U.S. companies and workers are at a trade disadvantage against companies and countries that do not pay adequate wages or maintain safety standards and environmental controls, Merkley said.

That results in countries and companies engaging in a “race to the bottom,” which puts U.S. manufacturing jobs at risk and is fundamentally unfair to American working families, he said.It’s also terribly destructive to workers around the world, many of whom are forced to work in unsafe conditions for meager wages.

Current American law and trade agreements prohibit “dumping” of products, where companies export products at prices below the cost of production or cheaper than they sell for in the home country, and allow the U.S. to impose duties to make the sale price in America reflect what the true cost would be without cheating.

As Congress begins to debate potential Trade Promotion Authority legislation and the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership, the Level the Playing Field in Global Trade Act would, for the first time, require that any new trade deals considered under Trade Promotion Authority recognize egregious environmental and labor practices as a form of illegal subsidy that can be remedied by U.S. duties.

It would also reward companies that adhere to high global standards by creating new trade enforcement incentives.

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