Coffee & Conversation with Congressman Earl Blumenauer, Chairman of the Ways & Means Trade Subcommittee




Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), Chair of the Ways & Means Trade Subcommittee discussed the Subcommittee agenda, his priorities, his views of the Administration’s trade agenda, and what we might expect on USMCA, trade talks with China, and pending FTA discussions. 


Congressman Earl Blumenauer (D-OR)

Steve Lamar, Executive Vice President, American Apparel & Footwear Association


Amid rising tensions and ongoing negotiations, the issue of trade has become a central point of discussion among media organizations, lawmakers, and businesses alike. This WITA event welcomed the chair of the Ways & Means Trade Subcommittee, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), who offered his views on the current state of international trade. After introductory remarks from Ken I. Levinson, WITA’s executive director, and moderator Steve Lamar, the Executive Vice President of American Apparel and Footwear and President of WITA’s Board of Directors, Rep. Blumenauer began his opening statement. 

Rep. Blumenauer was frank in his analysis of the situation. He voiced his belief that robust international trade was necessary for economic activity and growth, and criticized President Trump’s “drive-by tariffs” and “vexing” agenda. Such instability undercuts the United States’ position with China, who he identified as a negative and ruthless actor in the international community. After years of tension, he did not want to come out with only a purchase order to show.  

Rep. Blumenauer also commented on the original NAFTA agreement, identifying its various weaknesses and shortcomings. It failed to produce substantial benefits for foreign workers. For example, after adjusting for inflation, the average Mexican worker is making less today than they did pre-NAFTA. Further, it failed to reduce the crisis at the U.S.-Mexican border, and did not comprehensively address pressing environmental issues. 

Following his initial remarks, Rep. Blumenauer answered questions from the moderator, Steve Lamar, as well as the audience. Lamar opened with an inquiry about the labor standards and enforcement mechanisms outlined in USMCA, asking about the path forward for House Democrats on the issue. Rep. Blumenauer began by praising the Mexican government. He commended them for the significant steps they had taken to improve labor conditions, and voiced his confidence in the commitments given by the Mexican government. However, he also identified the need for trust building, and increasing the capacity of the USMCA to process the sheer number of anticipated contracts. 

When asked about whether or not he was satisfied with the trade hearings and vetting process for the Tranche 4 tariffs, Rep. Blumenauer gave a simple answer: “No.” He went on to explain how for many initiatives, the administration had failed to procure the proper resources for them to be successful. He called it “non-sensical,” and stated that “if they can’t implement it, just stop it!” He also stated that Congress has been too complicit in the expansion of Executive authority, and emphasized the need for Congress to re-assert its constitutional authority. Statutory guardrails for the Executive branch need to be implemented. Regardless, he called USCMA his top legislative priority, saying that “virtually everyone agrees NAFTA 2.0 is better.”

However, he cautioned against hasty expectations for USMCA’s passage. Although Mexico’s government has already approved it, he reiterated the need for the U.S. to take its time with ratification. Serious questions are still being asked, and many of the Democrats’ original requests were left out of the agreement. Rep. Blumenauer said there was little chance for the USMCA to be passed before August.

He also commented on the United States’ role in the international community. After being asked about the World Trade Organization, he said that there was concern among lawmakers about the body’s lack of U.S. leadership. The WTO is one of the United States’ major contributions to the world. As a result, Blumenauer advocated for the strengthening of WTO, as nations need a rules-based structure to promote international trade. Outside of the USMCA and China, he sees the European Union and Brexit as being prominent during the 2020 elections. He even joked that the U.K., through Brexit, competes with the U.S in terms of self-destructive behavior. 

Rep. Blumenauer was also asked about his expectations for the upcoming talks between President Trump and China’s Xi Jinping. Given President Trump’s unpredictable behavior, China’s longevity as a nation, and their propensity to play the “long-game,” Blumenauer said he had no expectations for the meeting. To conclude, he emphasized the need for cross-cutting discussions between Democrats and Republicans on the issue of trade, and harkened back to his belief that robust international trade was crucial for economic growth.