WASHINGTON -- The Senate committee writing up legislation to advance President Barack Obama's trade agenda agreed Wednesday evening that there should be no exception to child slavery laws.
It might seem surprising that the Senate Finance Committee had to consider such an issue, but the proposed legislation to give the president fast-track trade authority had failed to close a 1930s loophole that allows the U.S. to import goods made with forced or child labor in limited circumstances.
Sen. Orrin Hatch (R-Utah), the current chairman of the Finance Committee, had written legislation in 2013 with then-Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) to close the loophole, but that measure never advanced. It's not clear why a similar provision hadn't been inserted in the new trade legislation, which Hatch wrote with Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.).
On Wednesday, Wyden said that he found the omission unacceptable and offered an amendment with Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio) to close the loophole.
"Currently, U.S. law permits the importation of goods made with indentured or forced labor if the goods are not made in the United States in sufficient quantities to meet demand," Wyden said. "There is never, never a time when forced labor is acceptable. This is 2015, and there is absolutely no room in our trade policies for any exceptions to that principle."
The amendment passed the committee 22-4, with Sens. Hatch, Tim Scott (R-S.C.), Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.) and Mike Enzi (R-Wyo.) voting against it.
Hatch did not fully explain his opposition, but suggested he wanted to require proof that a given product was produced by slave labor.
"I support language that would prohibit the importation of goods that [Customs and Border Protection] investigates and finds with direct and specific evidence was produced by forced labor, including child labor," Hatch said.
A similar provision has already been included in the House version of the trade bill.
Michael McAuliff covers Congress and politics for The Huffington Post. Talk to him on Facebook.
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