Rep. Doggett Calls for Public Health Focus in Trade Negotiations
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, Congressman Lloyd Doggett (D-TX), Ranking Member of the House Ways and Means Tax Policy Subcommittee, questioned U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer in a Ways and Means hearing on the public health impacts of current NAFTA negotiations. You can watch his full remarks here, and find the full transcript below. Rep. Doggett said, in part:
“Trade agreements have long been abused by private interests, like Big Tobacco and Big Pharma to subvert public health. Now, the obesity lobby is trying to do the same thing with NAFTA. Our children’s health should come before those who scheme to exploit them for profit. I hope Trade Ambassador Lighthizer will stand firm for protection of American investors, but not a mechanism that allows foreign investors to invade our sovereignty, and to subvert and undermine health and safety regulation.”
Congressman Doggett referenced a New York Times story, “In Nafta Talks, U.S. Tries to Limit Junk Food Warning Labels,” and questions Trade Ambassador Lighthizer on a provision that would limit the ability of any NAFTA member to require consumer warnings on foods that may contribute to the obesity epidemic. This includes any warning symbol, shape, or color that “inappropriately denotes that a hazard exists from consumption of the food or nonalcoholic beverages.”
NAFTA was signed in the district Rep. Doggett represents, in San Antonio, Texas.
Remarks as Delivered
Ways and Means Hearing
March 21, 2018
Congressman Doggett: “Thank you, Mr. Chairman; thank you, Ambassador. NAFTA is very important in Texas. It was signed in the district that I currently represent in San Antonio, and I sincerely appreciate your efforts to significantly improve it, learning from the experience of the last two decades.
“Though I personally continue to support more trade through NAFTA and around the world, one of the major reasons that I have voted against a number of previous trade agreements is the way they have been subverted by various special interests to serve their own selfish agenda, to the detriment of our public health.
“Big tobacco, big pharma, have been examples of that in the past. And I’m very troubled by this morning’s New York Times front page story that advises that your office is currently involved in NAFTA negotiations to serve the obesity lobby.
“You’re aware, Ambassador, that the Center for Disease Control reports that almost a third of American youth between the ages of 17 and 24 are too overweight to serve in our military, that the Defense Department reports that 1 in 13 American service members is clinically obese.
“Now, I know there is no panacea for this problem, and I don’t endorse every action taken by a foreign government, but I think that it is wrong to limit the power of American states and local governments as well as foreign governments, to address this challenge.
“I want to draw your attention specifically to that Times article, in which it is said that ‘the Trump administration’s proposal and the corporate pressure behind it hold the potential to handcuff public health officials for the decades.’ ‘The American provision seeks to prevent any warning symbol, shape, or color’ that, quote, and this is apparently drawn from the documents that you’re advancing, ‘inappropriately denotes that a hazard exists from consumption of the food or non-alcoholic beverages.’
“Is it correct that your office is urging adoption of that provision as a part of the NAFTA renegotiation?
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: Well, first of all, I’d like to put my office on the record as being against obesity.
Congressman Doggett: I’m glad to hear it. The question is whether you’re against things that prevent us from addressing that problem, and if you’re supporting this provision, you’re certainly not.
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: Well, I guess I would say, Congressman, that for us, it is slightly more nuanced than that.
Congressman Doggett: Well, just answer first – is this a provision that’s being advanced by the American government?
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: The idea is, yes, the idea of putting limits on the ability of countries to put warning labels or symbols on products is something that we are concerned about.
Congressman Doggett: So, it is accurate that this provision, the language that I just read to you, is being advanced by our negotiators?
U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer: I don’t – I mean, I can’t comment on the exact language in the statute, I don’t, in the article, I don’t have the article in front of me. But, the issue is one that we’re concerned about. The other side – your point is an excellent one, and I agree with it. On the other side of it, there are lots of examples of countries that are using this loophole to basically create a protectionist environment. So we have, that’s why I said it’s more nuanced from our point of view. We have companies that come in with products that literally, they’re on shelves with no wrapping on them. There’s a kind of an extreme between one way and another. This can be used as protectionism, to the extent it’s used as protectionism, we have to be very careful of it.
Congressman Doggett: We certainly do, and I welcome any further written answer you might have. I want to turn to investor state, because there’s one that I applaud your answer to the Chairman. When he asked the question, ‘Who’s got our back?,’ the corporate lobby basically wants it to be three lawyers operating behind closed doors as much as possible. We know from the Bilcon vs. Canada case that corporate interests went around Canadian law with rights they couldn’t have there, and they’re only asking for half a billion dollars now because they were denied the right to expand a quarry. I hope you will stand firm for protection of American investors, but not a mechanism that allows them to invade our sovereignty, as you correctly noted, and to subvert and undermine health and safety regulation. There is no reason foreigners should be given more rights than American citizens, and American companies have, and that is what is happening through the investor state mechanism. You are right to be skeptical on it, and I hope you will continue to urge that position, because if we don’t see some genuine reform of the investor state mechanism, renegotiation of NAFTA will not have met the objectives that you set out initially. Thank you, and I look forward to your further response about this very troubling issue on obesity.”