Trading away jobs for TVs?
The Obama administration is seeking to expand the U.S. economy by increasing exports under the proposed Trans-Pacific Trade agreement.
The proposed agreement, between North America, some of South America, and several countries in the Pacific Rim (12-13 trade partners in all) would open markets creating an estimated additional US export market of $123 billion by 2025.
The president has requested trade market authority from congress, more commonly known as Fast Track. Fast Track allows the administration to conduct all negotiations and present congress with an agreement that can only be voted up or down in its entirety.
It is uncertain if Congress will grant the president such authority for this trade agreement. Tea Party Republicans are loathe to cooperate with this president on any issue and Democrats have strong concerns about several parts of the trade agreement.
Since NAFTA, now 20 years old, American workers have seen their jobs reduced to commodities, their pay competing with underdeveloped countries, and their industries moved offshore. In exchange the price of many goods has fallen and one can now buy a Blue Ray player for under $50. That would be exciting if jobs and wages lost did not make the price unaffordable for many Americans.
The other concerns with the new trade agreement include the protection of worker rights after several incidents in China and other Asian manufacturers; the demand for environmental protections everywhere where products are produced; the offshoring of corporate profits to avoid taxation; the risk of national security issues from defense offshoring; the damage to U.S. industries like sugar, textiles and cars; and the manipulation of currencies where nation states compete with our independent companies by unfair practices.
Japan would be a participant to the new trade agreement, and as a trading partner, they have not exactly been able to construct a level playing field with the US. In 2010, according to Japan Today, Japan exported 1.5 million cars to the U.S. and the U.S. sold 8,000 cars in Japan. Sounds like a good trade relationship?
South Korea has shown interest in joining the new trade treaty, and has an existing trade agreement with the U.S. intended to lower barriers for U.S. products there. But since the 2012 trade agreement was signed, according to Money News, the U.S. has sold 1,000 cars in South Korea while America has imported 1.3 million cars from South Korea. Sound like a good trading partner to you?
China, while not a proposed member of the new trade agreement, is already a significant trading partner with the US. But as recently as the late 1990s the state of North Carolina had 233,000 textile workers in 2,100 plants (Duke University).
A decade later there remained only 80,000 of those jobs and 40 percent of the factories had closed, all as a result of free trade policies in NAFTA.
And many of those jobs went to China where cheap labor, lax environmental restrictions and significant currency manipulation made competition unfair and impossible.
The US needs something far better than NAFTA and far better than “free trade.” As the largest world market, triple the size of the next largest market, our leverage should be the value of entry into the U.S. market. Those who would violate worker’s rights, the environment, or practice currency manipulation should either face expulsion from selling in the U.S. or punitive penalties.
Frankly, all things are not equal, and U.S. jobs should benefit, not face loss, by those who want to sell in this market. Importers could be allowed a five-year window to market here without penalty. But at the end of five years they must produce 50 percent of what they sell in the U.S. or face stiff tariff access.
Free trade is an unworthy goal; fair trade is a far better target.
Jim Crawford is a retired educator and political enthusiast living here in the Tri-State.