Chair Blumenauer Opening Statement at Trade Subcommittee Hearing on Promoting Sustainable Environmental Practices Through Trade Policy


Date: Dec. 14, 2022
Location: Washington, DC
Issues: Trade Environment

Today we are holding a hearing on the critical and timely subject of trade and the environment.

The climate crisis is here and continues to intensify.

Global warming, extreme weather events, and biodiversity loss have disrupted the delicate balance of our natural world.

While Congress, led by this Committee, recently enacted the historic Inflation Reduction Act to ensure the United States remains a leader in addressing the climate crisis, the scope and scale of this crisis require us to do much more, and to take continued action with our allies and partners around the globe.

One area of deep concern is ongoing deforestation and forest degradation.

These drivers of forest loss threaten the survival of countless species and reduce the ability of forests to provide the services we need--from purifying the air we breathe, to providing an indispensable home for flora and fauna, to preventing erosion, and acting as a critical barrier against climate change.

Forest loss affects tens of millions of people, but especially local and indigenous communities whose culture and livelihoods depend on these habitats.

I was one of the authors of the 2008 Lacey Act amendments that banned trade in unlawfully sourced wood products to deal with the ongoing problem of illegal logging and deforestation--perpetrated by some of the worst people on the planet.

Our legislation has helped reduce the importation of illegal timber into the United States by more than one third.

Last October, I introduced bipartisan legislation with Senator Schatz--the FOREST Act--to deter commodity-driven deforestation by prohibiting imports of products made of certain commodities produced on illegally deforested lands.

I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues in the House and the Senate on this legislation. I will also continue to seek to advance its objectives through other international forums, and U.S. bilateral and multilateral agreements.

Historically, this Committee has worked across administrations to promote high levels of environmental protection through trade agreements and initiatives, with the objective of furthering sustainable development.

There is, however, a troublingly lackluster track record for enforcement of the environmental provisions in U.S. trade agreements over the years, even as some of our trading partners have fallen far short of the commitments they have made to protect the environment.
The United States needs to step up.

I was deeply involved with the Forest Annex of the U.S.-Peru Trade Promotion Agreement--a concession that made the agreement's approval by Congress possible.

Yet illegal logging in Peru continues unabated and sadly the United States has taken enforcement actions against only two companies operating in Peru that have exported illicit timber to the United States.

As Mr. von Bismarck's testimony notes, there are several other exporters with documented illegal timber trade to the United States that have not suffered any enforcement action. Peru also has not fulfilled certain important traceability commitments.

The Biden Administration has taken some steps with trading partners to ensure they are living up to their obligations to encourage high levels of environmental protection, and to effectively enforce their environmental laws.
Earlier this year, USTR launched environmental consultations with Mexico under the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement concerning Mexico's obligations relating to the prevention of illegal fishing.

In July USTR directed U.S. Customs and Border Protection to continue blocking timber imports from a Peruvian exporter based on illegally harvested timber found in its supply chain.

And last year, USTR announced an agreement with Vietnam on illegal logging and timber trade.

But the United States can and must do more to hold our trading partners accountable for the commitments they make.

Independent testing has revealed more than half of wood products imported into the United States have incorrect species claims. Additionally, imports of wood products worth tens of billions of dollars, subject to the Lacey Act prohibition on illegal harvest, remain in practice uncovered by the Act's declaration requirements.

This Committee will continue to advocate for strong enforcement of environmental commitments in U.S. trade agreements.

We support continued cooperation with our trading partners to increase their capacity to tackle environmental challenges, particularly in key areas like illegal deforestation, which has had a devastating impact on communities and ecosystems across the world.

This Committee also has supported our government's efforts to address illegal fishing, which contributes to the destruction of precious marine ecosystems.

These illegal practices harm coastal communities and workers and lower U.S. prices for fairly caught fish.

The United States imports billions of dollars' worth of seafood derived from illegal fishing activities each year. The Biden Administration must strengthen enforcement of trade obligations and U.S. trade laws to combat illegal fishing and to limit imports of unlawfully caught seafood, some of which may be tainted with forced labor.

I was pleased with the Agreement on Fisheries Subsidies reached at the World Trade Organization's 12th Ministerial Conference, but more work needs to be done at the WTO to curb harmful fisheries subsidies that contribute to overfishing, to conserve marine resources, and to prevent the widespread depletion of fish stocks.

China is estimated to be the largest source of illegal, unreported, and unregulated seafood imports--representing a global threat to workers and consumers alike.

This Committee will continue to advocate for greater enforcement of the U.S. forced labor import prohibition to prevent imports of seafood from fishing vessels where egregious forced labor practices occur.

Finally, the enactment of the historic Inflation Reduction Act will accelerate clean manufacturing and decarbonize emissions-intensive industries. It is important that the United States also utilizes trade tools to this end.

I am encouraged by the early discussions with the European Union regarding a "global arrangement" to address carbon intensity and overcapacity in the steel and aluminum sectors.

I look forward to hearing from our witnesses today about how this Committee can work with the Biden Administration as it considers "a new generation of trade policies" to promote the decarbonization necessary to limit global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius.

I hope to collaborate with our colleagues across the aisle on what should be a bipartisan priority for all of us--ensuring a livable climate now and for future generations.

With that, I will recognize the Ranking Member, Mr. Smith, for an opening statement.