Trading away manufacturing jobs for low-paying service-sector jobs hurts this state’s workforce and economy.
SINCE the introduction of a trade-promotion-authority bill last week, calls for Congress to reject “fast-track“ authority for the Trans-Pacific Partnership are getting louder in Washington state — with good reason.
Working people rallied against it last weekend in Ferndale as part of a “national day of action,” the city councils of Seattle and Bellingham have urged opposition, and this week more than 100 labor, environmental, civic and small-business organizations co-signed a letter to the state’s congressional delegation urging them to vote no.
Why? Rather than provide rubber-stamp approval for a massive and largely secret trade deal, elected leaders must serve as the voice of the people they represent and preserve political leverage over the content of the trade partnership, and any trade deal that follows.
The American labor movement is not against trade deals, but we’re dead set against bad trade deals. Our trade agreements should advance U.S. interests while also contributing to the overall development of the world’s economy and raising living standards. That’s why we support trade preferences programs, such as the African Growth and Opportunity Act for developing countries in Africa, and why we oppose trade rules that weaken “buy American” policies.
It cannot be credibly argued that America’s trade policies are accomplishing our key national objectives — whether you point to our chronic trade deficits, our unsustainable net international debt or the broader labor market data on wage stagnation and growing inequality.
In the years since the North American Free Trade Agreement and World Trade Organization agreements took effect, American workers have suffered job losses and wage stagnation resulting from bad trade policies. Washington state has seen a net loss of more than 28,000 manufacturing jobs since 1994, with nearly 5 million manufacturing jobs lost nationwide. More than 72,000 Washington jobs have been displaced due to offshoring or trade deficits. Many workers end up settling into service-sector jobs, which pay less.
Instead of destroying good jobs, trade should create them. To do that, we need to ditch the idea of trade as a corporate entitlement.
For more than 20 years, America has looked at international trade through a very narrow corporate lens. Instead of promoting America’s exports and creating good American jobs, trade agreements made it easier for global corporations to move capital offshore and ship cheap stuff back. The logical outcome was trade deficits and falling wages — and that’s what we got.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership involves a dozen countries that touch the Pacific Ocean. It’s an enormous agreement, but no one we know has seen the whole deal. What we have seen is not good. The draft trade deal offers corporations a secret tribunal called “investor-state dispute settlement” to allow foreign investors to challenge any law or regulation they consider unfair — like requirements that cigarette packaging include graphic health warnings.
Gov. Jay Inslee and former Gov. Chris Gregoire have raised concerns about this investor-state dispute mechanism. During trade negotiations in 2005, Gregoire wrote then-U. S. Trade Representative Rob Portman that this was “deeply troubling.”
Bad provisions like this continue to have life only because they remain largely unknown, hidden in the dark. In the sunlight, they’ll vanish.
Without fast-track authority, our whole country could review and help shape the trade agreement. With that opportunity, we would have a fighting chance to remove problematic sections and strengthen others. Secret tribunals would be out; strong, enforceable currency provisions would be in.
But that can’t happen with fast-track authority. We should only use a process like that when Congress has complete confidence that federal negotiators are pursuing the right policies. We don’t think Congress or the American people have that kind of confidence today.
Every single line in our trade deals should be openly discussed and subject to public oversight and the full legislative process. There should be no question about that. Fast-track authority is undemocratic. It’s a rotten process and it has cost us good jobs and wages.
It’s time to reject fast-track authority. And, if we can’t fix the Trans-Pacific Partnership, we should scrap that, too.