A Conversation with Representative Sander Levin

Thursday, September 18, 2014
Sander Levin

Ranking Member, Committee on Ways and Means, U.S. House of Representatives (D-MI)

Ellen L. Frost

Adjunct Senior Fellow, East West Center; Visiting Distinguished Research Fellow, National Defense University

Representative Sander Levin discusses U.S. Congress and the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations.


FROST: Well, good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Welcome to a conversation with Representative Sander Levin. This session is on-the-record, and we will also be livestreaming this event on the Council's website.

I want to point out that Congressman Levin has covered himself with glory by submitting a report to the Council on Foreign Relations. This sets a very high standard for subsequent speakers. The format is simple. Congressman Levin will open the event with some remarks from the podium. He and I will then have a short conversation one-on-one, and then I will open the floor to comments and questions from all of you.

You have, I think, a long biography of Congressman Levin, so I won't go through that. He has been in elected political office almost all the time since 1964 and entered Congress in the House in 1982. He is, as you know, the ranking member of the House Ways and Means Committee.

So with that short introduction, I'd like to turn the podium over to Congressman Levin for some opening remarks.

LEVIN: Well, good morning. Good morning. Thank you to the Council, but also thank you for coming. It's kind of early in the morning, and I appreciate the ability to start a few minutes early. And I don't know if it was mentioned. We'd like to wrap up by 9:25, rather than 9:30, because the president of Ukraine is coming for a joint session. And I've been given the chance to be part of the escort committee, reflecting the involvement of my office and myself for a long time in affairs relating to Ukraine.

So I think all of you have a copy of this report. I'm not going to read it. That's why we distribute to you in advance, because when one speaks and everybody's reading, it doesn't work so well. So I may refer to it now and then, but I'd mostly like to have a conversation.

Let me start off by just outlining and emphasizing the significance of TPP. With everything else that's going on within the Congress, I think, in the country, and the world, I think the importance of TPP has really had somewhat of a backseat.

But when you look at it, this is really the first multilateral negotiation, except for the Doha Round, which did not succeed, since the Uruguay Round. It's the first. And so you have 12 countries, 12 parties, 40 percent of the GDP of the world, and it involves interestingly very diverse economies.

I've been involved over the years in negotiation, mostly free trade agreements between the U.S. and another country, or the rather—and Mike Andrews will remember it well—the controversial issue of China PNTR. That was multilateral, but the negotiation was, you know, between the China and particular countries.

So here you have diverse economies, and they span from China, from Japan to Vietnam, Malaysia, much smaller, though important, and while Japan is very much a market economy, of course, Vietnam is not, or hasn't been. So you have this immense diversity, and also the subject matters—and I don't think this is well-noted—the subject matters are very diverse, far, far more diverse than the Uruguay Round, where the focus, in addition to some of the new frontiers, revolve more around tariffs. There were some other issues, including one that I was very much involved with, countervailing duties, et cetera.

So you have this diversity of subject matters, and then you have also the issue—it's Asia and China. So I think essentially what we face is a prospect of some discussion and agreement that could be very positive, have major, major positive impacts, but also the possibility of some very difficult results and the weakening of standards.

So I think the first point I want to make is the importance—the significance of this negotiation. And the second—and we outlined this—and I want to emphasize this—you hear a lot of discussion that comes forth after ministers meet or other negotiators meet about end points. And as I look about some of the staff that's here, and they'll tell you, we kind of smile when we hear that term. And sometimes there are other terms used relating to end points.

I think the reality is that on most of the major issues, there are major outstanding unresolved aspects. So if there are end points, there's a long way to go to the end zone.

I remember Pascal Lamy would come into the office, and he'd say, "Sandy, we're"—and he was, of course, French, and football was different in France, but he learned American football—and he would say, "Sandy, we're in the red zone."


And I'd look at him, and I'd say, "Pascal, you know soccer, but I don't think you know much about football."


So I want to quickly—just very quickly go down the issues that I outline in this paper, just very quickly. I want to point to just some aspects in each of them or some of them that show—that shows there's much work to be done.

The first one I talk about worker rights. As some of you know, we negotiated a May 10th agreement years ago. It was really done by relatively few of us, accepted by the Bush administration, but negotiated by us, that related to worker rights, to the environment and medicines. And for many of us, the May 10th agreement has to be a bedrock in the discussions of TPP.

And I point out here that while that seems to be accepted, but there's some issue as to the dispute settlement system. How you apply it to Vietnam is a major challenge—applying the basic international labor standards to an economy which is a command economy—and where the thought is that the worker rights are best protected by the government running the organization. It creates an immense challenge, I think. And so Vietnam being part—an important part of this negotiation, I think, presents some major challenges.

Environmental protections—so far the discussion has been to implement what was in May 10th differently than what was in May 10th for understandable reasons, but there remains considerable back-and-forth as to the implementation. Medicines—the Doha Round when it was kicked off, if anybody here was there, you would remember that maybe the most prominent feature of the discussion there related to medicines, and Physicians Without Borders were very active, and it was an initial effort to try to make sure that when you looked at intellectual property in medicines, that it took into account the impact on developing nations.

And when we crafted May 10th, we did so in a way that I think importantly took into account the need for developing nations, the citizens there, to have access while at the same time you protected intellectual property rights in the medicine area. There's also a reference there to—on page three of human rights.

Then, the whole issue of trade is a two-way street, and there's considerable discussion here about currency. And I think you know within the Congress this is a major concern. Fifty-five, sixty senators—I forget the number—wrote a letter—sixty—wrote a letter indicating how essential it was for TPP to address the currency issue, in part because of the presence of Japan and the history of Japanese handling of its currency, especially in the '90s.

That currency has never been effectively addressed in a trade negotiation. It's left to the IMF, which sets the standard which I think is basically clear, but without any enforcement procedure. And so for the first time, there is a real drive to address currency within a multilateral trade agreement.

And then I talk about Japan and autos and agriculture. We had a major effort within the Korea free trade agreement to open up its—the automotive sector to U.S. domestic industry products. Japan has been the most closed market in the world in terms of automotive.

The same is true in many respects in agriculture. And so one of the hearts of TPP relates to the automotive sector in agriculture. Let me just say one word. There's some notion that the way to unlock TPP is simply or mainly in the negotiation between the U.S. and Japan on autos and agriculture. I think it's a vital area, but I think that's an oversimplification. It's very important, but I don't think any single step unlocks the challenge ahead.

And that's, I think, reflected in the discussion in the paper on state-owned enterprises, because in trade negotiations, there really has not been before a major addressing of this issue. But it's difficult to proceed, for example, vis-a-vis Vietnam without looking at that issue, because American companies want to be sure, as they compete with Vietnamese companies, that essentially the state-owned enterprise structure is altered. Otherwise, it's a very unlevel playing field.

And then just quickly, to go on, the third part of this preserving our right to regulate—and I just want to say quickly a few words about this. It's a very sensitive subject in this country, both relating to food safety and the investment—the state investment issue.

And some who are opposed to any trade agreement use these issues. And we're unwise if we don't recognize how critical they are and how we need to address them openly and honestly. In food safety, essentially where it is, we think some countries use their structures to keep out our products. That's true of TTIP, as well as TPP. But we need to address its issue so we don't undo the effective regulation in the United States of America.

Some people think we want to have it both ways, enforce ours but make sure other countries, as they, quote, "enforce" theirs, don't use it basically to keep out our products. So there needs to be some hard work done on that.

And the investor-state issue, we may want to talk about it, it's a difficult issue. We have a strong legal structure, and essentially we say to countries, if you have a dispute, if your companies feel or your enterprise feel they've been unfairly treated in the U.S., there's a good legal system to which you can refer. But in some of the countries, there is not that strength of a legal system.

So how do you resolve that? Also, I refer to the tobacco issue. It's an important, sensitive issue. Here I think USTR was right in the first place, and then they equivocated. My own feeling is that tobacco products are different than others. And if a country wants to essentially clamp down on their sale and use, they should be able to do that. But, you know, that's—that might be an exception, but I think it's an exceptional product.

OK, so the last part of this and I'll conclude as quickly as I can, essentially because I say of the importance of this negotiation, because so many of the key issues have outstanding elements within them that need to be resolved, Congress needs to become an active partner in the resolution.

And I think—and then I address the fast-track provisions and essentially say that you can't address these issues effectively and have a meaningful congressional role by focusing in on fast-track or TPA. Fast-track has traditionally set out some objectives, but in a more generalized way, and it doesn't enable Congress to dig in at important moments in the interstices in the—the dynamics of the resolution of these issues.

And I'd point to a couple of examples in the paper. For example, on currency manipulation, the Camp-Baucus-Hatch proposal is very, very general and simply lays out options. It doesn't—it doesn't essentially develop details or preferences as to which and would leave it to the executive and with ag talks about an objective reducing or eliminating tariffs. That doesn't get you very far.

So I'm just going to close by reading a bit of what I wrote, OK? Because I think it spells it out. "The Baucus-Camp-Hatch TPA may be a tool to speed consideration of a trade agreement, but it is not a tool to effectively shape the TPP currently being negotiated. The full focus must now be on TPP, not TPA. What is needed now is a clear, focused and structured involvement of Congress on the issues now under negotiation and their disposition, including effective transparency available to interested groups and the public as to how the negotiations are proceeding. That cannot be accomplished through work on a TPA."

Let me just say that—that the issue of transparency has been a very important one, because there have been restrictions on access to documents, including restrictions on the ability of members of Congress to see firsthand what's being negotiated. We've had some rules—I can see a document, but my staff can't. I mean, that's unworkable.

And I know there's a sensitivity in terms of negotiation how much can be seen at critical points, but so far, transparency has been oblique. And USTR has made some changes, but not enough.

We just found out yesterday there now is likely to be a negotiator—chief negotiator's session in Australia in October and then a ministerial meeting before the president goes to Asia. So I think this highlights the importance of all of us paying attention to these issues now and for Congress to be intimately involved, as well as various groups with interest in this.

And so I conclude just with my last two paragraphs. Congress should not abdicate its vital responsibilities over international trade, either by failing to participate actively in the shaping of major ingredients of the TPP or by agreeing to a fast-track up-or-down vote before it knows the major ingredients of TPP, the most immediate subject of a TPA.

A full partnership—and this addresses the issue how our—other countries can believe that USTR can deliver—a full partnership between USTR and Congress will send our negotiating partners a strong signal that the administration is proceeding with active congressional consultation in seeking a high-standard agreement. If and when that point approaches, a decision could be made on passage of TPA to help finalize the effective deal with our negotiating partners.

So I really appreciate all of your coming. My hope is that this paper will spur a much deeper involvement by the Congress and by all of you. And this in many respects is an unprecedented negotiation in terms of the diversity of the—of the economies and also the subject matters, 40 percent of the world GDP. And I think the Congress needs to—with everything else that we're doing—has to become an active partner with USTR in its resolution.

And I'll just finish—I said I was finished, but I'll tell you what motivates me. It isn't understood the role that Congress has played—and, I think, productively—and it hasn't been just here it is, we'll consult with you, vote yes or no.

In the Uruguay Round, the anti-dumping and countervailing duty provisions were negotiated in Geneva with the active participation on a bipartisan basis of members of Congress. And I could spell it out. It was more than active. And actually, we sat down with representatives of other countries.

The May 10th agreement that is now embedded in U.S. trade policy was negotiated by members of Congress. The Peru FTA was negotiated in substantial measure—at least portions of it—the May 10th portions in Peru were negotiated directly between members of Congress and the Peruvian government.

The Colombia free trade agreement which was held up in the Congress because of the need to pay attention to not environment so much, but as to the plight of workers who were being killed, that labor action plan was negotiated with a partnership between USTR and a few people within the Congress.

And I mentioned the Korea free trade agreement. When it was redone, a critical role was played in that case on a bipartisan basis between industry, labor, and some members of Congress and USTR. So it isn't as if my suggestion doesn't have its antecedents. And I feel so deeply about the importance of international trade and of the potential plus and minuses of TPP, depending on its outcome, and I think all of us need to become very much invested in its contours and I think for this to work, Congress has to be one of the major artists.

So thank you for coming. And now it's your turn. And I will sit down. Thank you very, very much.

FROST: Thank you. You can see why Congressman Levin is known as one of the most knowledgeable and the most thoughtful members of Congress on trade. In order to allow the—almost the full allotment of time for participation from all of you, I will restrict myself to just one question.

LEVIN: I'm sorry if I did that to you.

FROST: No, no, well, I will—actually, two small questions.


The so-called rebalancing of President Obama includes not only a geographic component, but a functional component, if you like, that is, a better balance between military and economic instruments in the policy towards the Asia Pacific. The TPP is the pillar of that economic approach. And I wondered if you thought that these sort of larger geopolitical considerations should count at all, as we enter the landing zone, I think it's now called. The end...

LEVIN: End point, your landing zone.

FROST: Right. Should we just not negotiate TPP on its own and not in connection with the rebalancing?

LEVIN: I think—I think it's complicated, but there can be a simple answer or a clear, crisp answer. The geopolitical factors always enter into the picture. And I don't think they can just be totally ignored, because that won't happen anyway. But it's important that the geopolitical factors not basically determine the structure of the trade negotiations.


LEVIN: Trade has to, to some extent, stand on its own. So I don't think you want to be naive, but you can't let these other factors essentially determine the basic contents of a trade agreement.

FROST: OK. Well, what I remember from the fast-track legislation in the first place is that although Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution assigns responsibility to regulate commerce with foreign nations to Congress, at the time, the Congress wanted to protect itself or prevent itself from hanging lots and lots of amendments and carve-outs and special deals on a trade agreement, and that's why they passed fast-track authorized, now called trade promotion authority.

Are you at all concerned that if members of Congress follow your advice and become more involved in all of these 29 chapters of TPP that they'll start hanging things on it and other countries will do the same? Will that be a problem in your mind?

LEVIN: Well, first of all, parliamentarians in other countries play an important role. I mean, just take Europe. And I think it's increasingly so. The European Commission—they can't negotiate without relationship to the parliaments—the various parliaments. The U.S. system is a bit different, I acknowledge.

And so you have to find a way—you can have only one negotiator, but that doesn't mean that the negotiator works in a vacuum, because the result of that is going to be a vacuum. The result of it is that people choose up sides before there's really an understanding of what's in the package.

And as someone who believes in the importance of trade—and some of you who've known me over the years, I very much feel it's so important that it's vital that people get involved with it and help to shape it, and essentially don't reach a determination before they need—they know the shape.

FROST: I understand.

LEVIN: OK? And—but if there's no major participation in the shape, then we can end up with stalemate. So those—there are some within our Congress who will take TPP regardless of what's in it. And they'll vote for fast-track in an instant. But for large numbers of people in the Congress, that isn't true, and it isn't true for interest groups and it isn't true for the public in general.

FROST: For sure. I'd like to open it now to the floor, please. Wait for the microphone. Stand when you're asked your question and identify yourself by organization. Steve, I think I saw you first.

QUESTION: Thank you. Steve Charnovitz at George Washington University Law School. Thank you for coming today. I think it must be a record for the Council to have both Senator Levin and Congressman Levin in about the same week, so we're very grateful for that. And thanks, also, for your leadership over the past few decades.

And looking back at your record, you've also had consistently very strong staff that have really helped the trade policy community in the United States, and I would commend you for that, too.

So here's my question. You said Congress—and it's picking up on what Dr. Frost was asking about—you said Congress shouldn't abdicate its responsibility. There seems to me the question is whether Congress is going to exercise its responsibility. The reason we had fast-track, going back to 1974, is that the Congress needed to set negotiating objectives, which they haven't done now. The Congress needed to extend authority to the president to negotiate so that other countries would understand that when we brought an agreement back, it would be voted up or down. Congress needed to set conditions for congressional participation and rules, which they haven't done yet, and that fast-track enabled the House and Senate to vote on the same treaty and the same bill without conference committees or amendments or things like that.

So you're saying TPP, before TPA, which I assume to be an attack on the whole fast-track concept. So I'd like to ask you this. What has changed in the last few decades around the world that other countries would be willing to—are other countries now more willing to negotiate with us without fast-track? Are the House and Senate better able to work with each other now than they were years ago? Is the Congress willing to let the administration negotiate without having rules set on what the congressional participation will be in the fast-track legislation and without having the Congress set objectives, as the European Parliament does, to use an example that you gave? So why not the traditional fast-track model?

LEVIN: I think the answer is—it's an excellent question—I think in the past where fast-track set some objectives, often—we haven't had a fast-track in a number of years. Often they were very general. And you can't—with the way negotiations are going—and the fact that now for several years these issues have been negotiated—you can't have an effective role of Congress by setting general objectives. There has to be a much more intimate relationship.

And the best way for other countries to feel that our negotiator is standing on firm ground with the Congress is essentially to have the structure of involvement so when USTR speaks, there's a belief that there has been enough involvement that the strong likelihood is that it will happen.

By the way, there's been a lot of progress in other negotiations without fast-track. And so I think at this point the solution is to have the investment of Congress and outside groups and reach a point where there's so much development of the issues that Congress would know what it was voting on when it passed a TPA.

At some point, I think there has to be said to the administration, there's been enough development so we know what we're voting on. We know what the package essentially looks like, so here's your authority to make the final decisions.

So, I mean, that's the reality. That's the reality. So to have a fight over fast-track, when we aren't sure of what would be in the package, the result of that is going to be, I think, very counterproductive. And groups are going to come out against fast-track when essentially that's going to, I think, undermine the possibility of getting a solid sound TPP.

And that's what's really happening now.

FROST: Gentleman in the red tie?

QUESTION: That's a lot of people.


FROST: Yeah, I know. I was pointing at you.

LEVIN: That's why I wore my blue tie today.

QUESTION: Thanks for coming, Congressman. Nelson Cunningham at McLarty Associates. I was reflecting on the list of—the last things you were saying as you were standing at the podium of the lists of negotiations where you felt you had been brought into the room and members of Congress had been brought into the room, Colombia, Peru, the May 10th agreement. And although you didn't say it, one might draw the conclusion that you felt you had been better treated during the Bush administration than you have been during the Obama administration. Is that fair?



FROST: It's a good, short answer. Do you want to elaborate?

LEVIN: When you say better treated, the reality is, May 10th was negotiated by a few of us Democrats and was accepted by the Bush administration because they thought it would lead to broad support for Korea, Panama, and Colombia. And I don't mean that uncharitably, but I remember some very clear-cut discussions between a few of us and someone who was above the negotiator within the Bush administration.

Also, there was strong cooperation between the Obama administration in the—the redoing, if you want to call it, of Panama and Korea and Colombia. And as I mentioned, the labor action plan was negotiated by the Obama administration and one or two members of Congress and the Colombian government.

And the issue—not to get—this isn't the weeds—the issue with Colombia became whether the labor action plan would be placed within the implementation bill. And the position of the Republicans was that there could be no reference to the worker rights provisions in the implementation bill. I thought that was a serious mistake, and I think it's proved to be that, because much work needs to be done.

But as someone who was—whatever you want to call me—part of the labor action plan, I voted no because I thought it was a serious mistake not to have that key provision within the implementation bill. So I don't think what you said is accurate.

FROST: Oh, gosh, there are so many. I'm going to take two at once. Next to the gentleman in the red tie is—you, yes. And then just in front of you, and I'll try to get to the others as fast as I can. Please, try to be brief so we can accommodate everyone.

QUESTION: Hello, Congressman. My name is Adam Behsudi. I'm with Politico. I just had a question about—you mentioned a structure of involvement. At this point, how do you envision yourself, other interested members becoming more involved in the TPP talks? Back in April, you mentioned a bicameral TPP working group. And what is the status of that? Has that been formed or is that going to be formed? And do you envision more involvement at the upcoming negotiations, sending staff, things like that? Can you elaborate on that?

FROST: OK, one more question, just to accelerate things a bit.

QUESTION: Hi, Congressman. My name's Steve Myrow. I'm with Beacon Policy Advisors. And just to pivot off of TPP for a second, to another international issue that you've been involved in a lot lately, the issue of corporate tax inversions, I know that—following on your comments from last week, and Secretary Lew said again yesterday that action was likely imminent or in the very, very near future from Treasury Department, but he also once again reiterated what you said, which is that the action that they take on the regulatory front isn't going to be able to stop these inversions, so therefore, what is the point of taking regulatory action, if they've already created a fog of uncertainty to try to stop deals from going forward?

FROST: OK. Bicameral working group and tax inversion.

LEVIN: Yeah, yeah. I'll answer tax inversion quickly. It's unrelated, but I love to talk about it.


The Treasury has made it clear they'll issue regulations if at all when they're ready. And I'm not sure when that will be.

So the excellent question from the gentleman from Politico, I can answer that very quickly. I think there needs to be a bipartisan, bicameral involvement, and the more structured, the better. And so I hope, while we're gone, we should not forget TPP.

And, indeed, that relates to your second question. I think it's—now that there's been an announcement of a negotiator and then a ministerial level discussion on TPP in Australia, I think members of Congress, as well as staff, need to be involved.

FROST: OK, two more questions. Gentleman there and you, also.

QUESTION: Real quickly, Congressman, let's say you have a...

FROST: Microphone and identify yourself, please.

QUESTION: Yes, I'm sorry. Allan Topol from Covington & Burling. Let's say that you have a seat at the table. How do you view these negotiations, Congressman, in the broader context of our increasingly competitive economic situation vis-a-vis China?

FROST: And you? I think (OFF-MIKE) not sure.

QUESTION: Hi, I'm Matt Schewel from Inside U.S. Trade. Thank you for taking the question. I just have two quick ones. One, you know, you've suggested—when you were talking about end points, you suggested that we're not—you know, there's a lot of work left to be done. So I was just wondering, what do you see as the possibility that that could be wrapped up, either by the president's goal of early November or by the end of the year?

And second question. I know that your focus is on TPP and not TPA, but others, including Chairman Camp, said yesterday he wants to get it passed in the lame-duck. And Wyden seems like he wants to do something, but is deferring to the majority leader. What do you see as the chances for passing a TPA bill in the lame-duck? Is there enough time? Is it a big problem if Republicans take the Senate? Just wanted to know your thoughts on that. Thank you.

LEVIN: As to seat at the table, I mean, there just needs to be active involvement, and seat at the table, I don't think that means that a member of Congress is there in all the ministerial negotiations. But there has to be a sufficient prelude to it.

I think what you mentioned China—I think that increases the importance of TPP, because some of the issues embedded in TPP and makes it an important agreement and an innovative agreement is take the two issues—just take two of them.

Actually, you can take three of them. Actually, you can take more. I would just mention currency, right? China has been the main currency manipulator, and while we need to at least make a substantial significant start on currency, has its relationship to China, I think the same is true of SOEs. My word. And to make some progress there with Vietnam and Malaysia and others is important, and then there's the whole issue of worker rights. So I think that makes TPP all the more important.

And in terms of timing, you know, it's a cliche, but sometimes cliches are correct. We ought to focus on the substance and not the timing. The timing predictions almost never work in trade negotiations. And I think it's a mistake to focus on the timetable to the detriment of the substance.

These are important, substantive issues. Trade is vital. It's vital to get it right. And when we don't, we get into immense trouble. It's a volatile issue within the public. Believe me. Forget the survey for a moment. It depends how you word them. Trade is a volatile subject. And we need to be less concerned about the date than we are the content.

FROST: I was talking to a trade lawyer yesterday, and he is often asked when Congress is going to pass TPA or TPP, for that matter. And he always says, "November," without specifying the year.


You know, in 2009, he said, "November."

LEVIN: So I made clear, the issue is TPP. The focus should be on TPP, not TPA.


LEVIN: If you want to sum it, I feel that so deeply.

FROST: In the very back corner, and did you have your hand up? Yes, back corner.

QUESTION: Yes, Len Bracken, reporter with Bloomberg BNA. You singled out Vietnam in your opening remarks. I wonder if you could elaborate a little bit more on that. Would it be accurate to report that you're concerned with Vietnam living up to the commitments that will be in the TPP agreement? And could you talk a little bit more about the dispute settlement linked with the labor commitments.

FROST: And you?

QUESTION: Thank you. I'm Sally Cowal with the American Cancer Society. You mentioned that USTR got it right in the first place about tobacco and then got it wrong. And you and other members of Congress addressed that in the letter to the president a year ago. Do you—do you see USTR regaining its backbone?

LEVIN: OK, I'll take that first. When I said they got it wrong, I think they moderated their position. I think that was a mistake. And I think—look, I understand all the pressures, and I don't mean to just be critical off the cuff.

I mean, tobacco—if you say tobacco is different, then what about other products? And so I understand—that's why it's so important for us to get involved in trade issues, because once you make—trade—the general position has to be everything's on the table. So if you take something off the table, how about the next thing?

So you have to be clear-cut. In my judgment, a critical health issue like tobacco is really different, OK? And I think USTR understands that.

With Vietnam, you know, I think Vietnam is a different country than it was many decades ago. I simply want to point out that their being part of TPP makes it a somewhat new equation. We haven't had a major negotiation with a major non-market economy.

When China went into the PNTR—and Mike will remember this—we worked—and Doug Bereuter and I put amendments up that somewhat changed it, we knew that it didn't resolve many of the forthcoming issues relating to China.

But Vietnam, I think, represents—and it's changing—it represents an opportunity for us to discuss and decide how you help a country that has had a command economy change. And my view is, I think their becoming part of TPP helps that, provided you shape the agreement so you have some standards that are enforceable.

And one of the key issues is, over time, and that all has to be worked out. And so far, we don't really have any clear-cut idea as to exactly how it's going to work out in terms of worker rights, in terms of SOEs, and also there are some other issues involved.

In terms of labor and the dispute settlement system, for a lot of us, it's clear-cut. May 10th had worker rights and environmental issues within the dispute settlement system, like all other economic issues, because those are economic issues, and that needs to be the standard in TPP.

FROST: There are going to be too many questions. You and then next to you.

LEVIN: The lady.

FROST: The lady in the beautiful shawl.

QUESTION: Balma Ethrea (ph), USAID. And thank you so much, Congressman, for your leadership on the trade and labor linkage over the years. May 10th had language on not only labor rights, workers' rights, but also labor capacity-building. And in the subsequent agreements, a lot of attention has been paid to countries and what they've done to meet their obligations to the conditionality on international labor standards, but I'm interested—because it's been less...


LEVIN: There's no turning back, and there should not be. I think we need to be active participants. We have to realize—that's why more and more of us need to be involved in helping to shape it. And I think we can do it, with all of these other issues that preoccupy us. It's here. The negotiations are going to continue. But we need to be sure that they're shaped in a way that really addresses these problems, so in the end, we in Congress can go back to our constituents and say that—that we don't have blinders on. We don't think there are automatic answers, but we want to shape it so that it's good in the individual lives of people. And we haven't done that very well.

Thank you all for coming. I really appreciate it.


FROST: Thank you very much.


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Diplomacy and International Institutions

Is America back and able to make the West once again the core of an open, rules-based world order? Biden and his counterparts have an opportunity to prove skeptics wrong this week.


U.S.-Russia bilateral relations have fallen to a new low, with Ukraine, Belarus, cyberattacks, and nuclear weapons among the biggest disagreements. What’s the best way to judge this summit’s success?

Latin America

The U.S. government is responding to another wave of migrants fleeing poverty, violence, and other challenges in the Central American region.