With Fast Track poised to pass Senate, Franken keeps up fight for better trade policy

Sen. Al Franken cracks up the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition leadership team while accepting his award. From L to R: coalition chair Kera Peterson, Franken, director Josh Wise and treasurer Russ Hess.

Sen. Al Franken accepted the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition’s leadership award in 2013.

A procedural vote last week greased the wheels for Fast Track in the U.S. Senate, but Sen. Al Franken is keeping up the fight for a trade bill that does the least harm to U.S. workers.

Yesterday Franken offered two amendments to the Fast Track bill. One would require tougher labor and environmental standards from foreign partners; the other would create more job-training opportunities for U.S. workers.

“As the debate continues to heat up this week in the Senate, I’m going to be pressing to make this trade package better for Minnesota,” Franken said.

Franken has been outspoken in his opposition to Fast Track, which would limit Congress’ influence over new trade agreements by forcing members to take up-or-down votes without offering amendments.

The DFL senator also has been skeptical of President Obama’s top trade priority, the Trans-Pacific Partnership. A sweeping, NAFTA-style free-trade agreement with 11 other countries, TPP has been negotiated in secret by trade ambassadors, with input only from “cleared advisers” who mostly represent multinational corporations.

But with Fast Track likely to pass the Senate as early as Thursday, Franken and other fair-trade Democrats are scrambling to make a bad bill better, introducing more than 150 amendments.

tpp-fast-track-1“When trade is done right, it can be beneficial, and it can help us remain competitive in an increasingly global economy,” Franken said. “But unfortunately, the trade package currently being debated in the Senate falls short of ensuring that trade agreements will genuinely benefit Minnesota workers, our communities and our businesses.”

Sens. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) and Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) co-sponsored Franken’s amendment to require stiffer labor and environmental standards from U.S. trade partners during trade negotiations.

Franken’s other amendment is based on a bill he previously introduced, the Community College to Career Fund Act. It would foster partnerships between community and technical colleges and businesses to train students interested in filling high-demand, open jobs in Minnesota and across the country. Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) is a co-sponsor.

“While I don’t believe that ‘fast track authority’ should be approved, I want to make sure that our trade negotiations aren’t toothless,” Franken said. “When it comes to ensuring strong labor and environmental standards worldwide, we need to make sure that our trade partners are playing by the rules. And I also want to protect our workers here at home by giving them the tools they need to get training for jobs in industries like manufacturing, healthcare, IT and energy.”

Franken’s advocacy on behalf of better trade policy earned him the Minnesota Fair Trade Coalition’s Fair Trade Leadership award in 2013. In addition to calling for greater transparency in TPP negotiations, Franken took the lead on efforts to stop South Korea from unfairly dumping steel into the U.S. market and harming Iron Range producers.

Both Franken and Sen. Amy Klobuchar voted last week to oppose Fast Track.

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  1. […] Track, or “trade promotion authority,” passed the Senate last month, and the bill could draw a vote in the House as early as […]

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