The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement has hurt American workers, and the Trans-Pacific Partnership will almost certainly do the same.
That was the message from members of Congress who came together on May 5 to highlight four years of data on the Korea deal released by the U.S. Census Bureau. It showed, among other things, that the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea (Asia’s fourth-largest economy) has more than doubled thanks to surging imports and a reduction in American goods crossing the Pacific. By the government’s own metric, that imbalance has cost U.S. workers more than 100,000 jobs.
“We were told the Korea trade deal was going to be different,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) of President Barack Obama’s last free trade effort. “But those promises never became reality, and this data shows it.”
“The Korea deal is the trade template for the TPP,” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), warning that the consequences of passing TPP couldn’t be clearer. “Cities have been devastated by these trade agreements,” she said.
The new numbers come at the worst possible time for free-traders in the Obama administration who have been fighting a flood of anti-trade rhetoric from the campaign trail as they’ve tried to sell Congress on the merits of the TPP.
Notably, Congress doesn’t seem to be buying it. Even Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, one of the TPP’s most vocal backers, has admitted that the outlook is “bleak” for the agreement even seeing a vote this year.
“The biggest problem right now is the political environment to pass a trade bill is worse than any time I've been in the Senate,” he said in an online interview with the rural policy site Agri-Pulse. “We're right in the middle of this presidential election year, [and] the candidates are all against what the president has negotiated.”
The TPP is a broad-based trade and investment agreement between the United States, Canada, Japan and nine other Pacific Rim countries. Like most trade deals, it aims to reduce tariffs on imports and exports and promises reforms in labor laws, environmental standards, human rights and intellectual property protection. But critics, including the IBEW, have long argued that it doesn’t go far enough to protect U.S. jobs.
Even now, those opponents aren’t willing to bet that the hostile political climate will slow down White House efforts to push it through Congress, perhaps in an anticipated so-called “lame duck” session after November’s election.
“When they were selling the Korea trade agreement, [the administration] promised jobs, they promised exports and they promised enforcement,” DeLauro said. “And with TPP, they’re offering the same set of false promises.
“Voters,” she said, “are concerned about stagnant wages, unemployment, currency manipulation and loss of manufacturing jobs. … The president must not try to sneak this agreement through in a lame duck session.”
“The trade issue is viral in states like Ohio,” said Rep. Marcy Kaptur, who represents the rust-belt state’s 9th district, stretching from Toledo to Cleveland. “The TPP fight is affecting the U.S. Senate race there, and it’s taken too long for the executive branch to catch up to the voters on this. It’s come at the cost of too many people’s livelihoods and too many jobs.”
The new data on the Korean deal puts to rest, once and for all, President Obama’s arguments that the North American Free Trade Agreement and others like it are a relic of past administrations. Despite promises that Korea and now TPP are new-era trade deals with worker protections and beefed-up enforcement, the census figures tell a wildly different tale.
“We’ve said all along that any new trade agreements need to be significantly different from ones that have cost American workers more than a million jobs over the last couple of decades,” said IBEW International President Lonnie R. Stephenson. “This Korea data just proves that ‘new-era’ trade deals are the same as the old ones. TPP is a bad deal for working people and American jobs, and we’re grateful to the members of Congress who are out there with us fighting to make sure it’s never enacted.”
Homepage Photo used under a Creative Commons license from Flickr user amanderson.