Sen. Josh Hawley, R-Mo., this week introduced a bill that would end trade benefits for developing countries during times of high unemployment in the U.S. — a move the populist senator says would protect American workers.
The Trade Preference Preference Reform and Worker Protection Act would only give trade benefits to developing countries if the U.S. unemployment rate is below 4% on avergae for six months, and would automatically suspend them if it went above that level.
Separately it would also exclude countries from getting those benefits if it has been designated by the Department of Labor as suspected of exporting goods produced by forced or child labor.
The benefits are currently granted by the Generalized System of Preferences (GSP) which was created in the 70s to give opportunities for poor countries to trade their way out of poverty. It currently benefits 119 countries and eliminates duties on thousands of imports.
The office of the U.S. Trade Representative says the system promotes “sustainable development” in those countries, while supporting U.S. jobs by bringing in imports, and helping companies by reducing import costs.
“GSP is especially important to U.S. small businesses, many of which rely on the programs’ duty savings to stay competitive,” the office says.
But Hawley rejects the claim that it helps American workers, saying his bill instead would benefit workers and that GSP benefits foreign countries and big companies. His office also said that in 2018, while nearly $24 billion of imports arrived duty-free in the U.S., U.S. producers saw no comparable trade benefit.
“For decades, Congress has rubber-stamped a trade program that gives American concessions in exchange for nothing, to countries that maintain tariff barriers on us, all while millions of jobs have been shipped offshore,” Hawley said in a statement to Fox News.
“Foreign nations should not be the beneficiaries of our trade policy, American workers should. My legislation is simple: It would end this special treatment until the job market improves and raise labor standards to protect our workers,” he said.
The bill marks the latest populist move by the 40-year-old senator. On Thursday he introduced a proposal, later joined by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to provide direct payments of $1,200 to all individual Americans and $2,400 to families, plus $500 per children — the same as those distributed to 80 million Americans in April under the $2.2 trillion CARES Act.
“Americans need direct payments now. Families are struggling. Unemployment claims are rising and food lines are growing. It’s time Congress finally acts,” Hawley said in a statement.
He has also worked with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., on calling for a second stimulus bill to help hurting American families during the COVID-19 crisis.
Fox News’ Audrey Conklin contributed to this report.