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Congress Must Make Consumer Safety a Trade Policy Priority, Public Citizen Tells Congress

Sept. 20, 2007

Congress Must Make Consumer Safety a Trade Policy Priority, Public Citizen Tells Congress

Good Jobs Exported, Dangerous Products Imported, Lori Wallach, Director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch Division, Tells House Subcommittee, Urges Rejection of Trade Agreements That Limit Import Inspections

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congress must fix existing trade agreements and reject proposed expansions of our current failed trade policy, which relocates production of consumer goods destined for the U.S. to countries with weak safety regulatory systems while simultaneously limiting safety standards for imported products and border inspection rates, Lori Wallach, director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch division, told lawmakers today.

Wallach testified before the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Commerce, Trade and Consumer Protection, which is considering new initiatives to stem the flow of dangerous imports, including lead-tainted toys, into the U.S.

“The root cause of the imported product safety crisis lies in U.S. trade policies, trade agreements and incentives that have promoted the export of whole swaths of the U.S. manufacturing base, while simultaneously imposing limits on import safety standards and inspection,” said Wallach. “Good jobs go out as dangerous products come in.”

Wallach urged Congress to oppose future expansions of the failed North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)-World Trade Organization (WTO) model, whose rules conflict with Congress’ stated goals of ensuring that children are not exposed to avoidable risk of injury or death from dangerous imports.

“Our current trade agreements prioritize ensuring a favorable investment climate for U.S. corporations seeking to relocate production overseas and facilitating access to imports over consumer safety,” said Wallach.

To remedy the import safety crisis, Wallach urged Congress to:

  • Provide new authority for domestic agencies responsible for product safety and inspection that recognizes that a significant portion of products sold in the U.S. are no longer made in the U.S. and addresses the reality that production in developing countries occurs without sufficient safety systems to safeguard consumers against even the most egregious hazards.
  • Provide greater funding for U.S. safety inspections in overseas plants and at the border in recognition that a significant portion of products sold in the U.S. are not produced under U.S. domestic environmental, safety and other regulatory standards.
  •  Develop a mechanism to ensure that companies manufacturing in less-regulated environments must offset the additional expenses connected with ensuring import safety.
  • Alter provisions of U.S. trade agreements, including the WTO’s Technical Barriers to Trade agreement, whose rules limit border inspection and the safety standards that WTO member countries can require of imported goods.

“Absent changes in existing trade agreements and rejection of future agreements with such limits, improvements Congress may make to U.S. policy regarding import safety could be exposed to challenge as ‘non-tariff trade barriers’ before trade tribunals under the current trade rules,” Wallach said.

In her testimony, Wallach recommended that Congress oppose proposed NAFTA expansion trade pacts that would replicate and lock in limits on the U.S. government’s ability to ensure the safety of imported products and food. Incorporated in the proposed free trade agreements with Peru, Panama, Colombia and South Korea are rules that limit what safety standards the U.S. can require for imported products and how much border inspection is permitted.

“Under our current trade agreements and U.S. import safety regimes, the American public is being left to rely on foreign regulatory structures and foreign safety inspectors to ensure that imported toys are safe,” said Wallach. “Unfortunately, recent tragedies have highlighted that many foreign regulatory systems are simply not up to the task.”

READ Wallach’s testimony.