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Perspective: Trade policy must be about U.S. jobs

By Pat Freibert

Let Congress debate, and amend, proposed Pacific deal

A critical current issue before the U.S. Congress is trade policy and how it relates to another powerful issue: American jobs. The Wall Street Journal, Washington Post and the Obama White House want unfettered White House authority over the pending trade pact with the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), prohibiting any amendments by Congress. The president is seeking White House “Fast Track” approval, blocking out any amendments to a proposed deal by Congress. The compelling debate centers on how this pact will affect American jobs and the American economy. At issue is how earlier trade agreements signed by the U.S. have impacted American jobs.

While “selling points” by advocates for the president’s plan rest on the usual talking points about free trade, jobs created, growing exports, etc., it is instructive to consider “the other side” and look at actual results and consequences of those earlier trade deals. Syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan recently wrote of those deals: “NAFTA, GATT, the WTO, MFN and PNTR for China, the Korean-U.S. free trade deal, and CAFTA with Central America – almost all have led to soaring trade deficits and jobs lost to the nations with whom we signed the agreements.”

Buchanan asks these questions about the reality of the proposed trade pact, relative to the results from previous and current “free trade” agreements: “Is there a link perhaps between the 55,000 U.S. factory closings and 5-6 million manufacturing jobs that went missing in the first decade of this new century, and the $11 trillion in U.S. trade deficits since Bush I? Is there a link between all those factories closing in the USA and all those factories opening in China, or between a U.S. average annual growth rate of 1.8 percent since the year 2000 and a Chinese average annual growth rate of around 10 percent?

Buchanan asks other questions that beg for answers before the Congress decides to cede all authority to the president to negotiate this Trans-Pacific Partnership, and surrenders its right to amend any deal agreed to by President Obama. Buchanan asks: “Did the tidal wave of imports from Japan and China, and the historic deficits we have run with both nations for decades, have anything to do with our indebtedness to our Asian creditors?” Between China and Japan, those countries hold $2.5 trillion in U.S. federal debt. Recent reports show that Japan now has narrowly passed China as the largest debt holder of American debt.

Peter Morici, chief economist in the early Clinton years at the U.S. International Trade Commission, claims that “the Korean deal alone and the import surge that followed cost America 100,000 jobs.” He reports also that “our annual $500 billion trade deficit costs America 4 million jobs and is a contributing cause of the fall of U.S. family income by $4,600 since 2000.”

The lines of support and opposition to “Fast Track” and U.S. approval of the Trans-Pacific Partnership seem fairly well defined right now, with Congressional Democrats, trade unions and the Big Three automakers being opposed, and Congressional Republicans, the Wall Street Journal and Washington Post, and K Street lobbyists voicing support. It seems uncharacteristic that Congressional Republicans are lining up to grant more power and authority to the president.

While recent negotiations by our federal government with foreign governments may demonstrate questionable fairness to American citizens and seem to reflect unsound negotiating skills to put Americans first before politics or corporate profits, this trade treaty can be rescued and improved with stronger provisions to protect American jobs and American worker provisions. The last thing the United States needs is for Congress to cede its power to the president, export more manufacturing jobs or run up more trade deficits. Those lost U.S. manufacturing jobs used to pay for many Americans to get a college education and improve their standard of living. Vacant or underutilized steel plants in America are a reflection of mediocre negotiations on behalf of American workers in past trade agreements whereby companies were given an avenue to offshore without penalties.

Consideration of “Fast Track” and signing on to the TPP trade agreement requires skillful and honest negotiations to protect our country first, before all other issues.

Pat Freibert is a former Kentucky state representative from Lexington. She can be reached at [email protected].