By Sue Martin
The writer is president/secretary-treasurer of the Nebraska State AFL-CIO.
In the near future, Congress is slated to take up the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement — a perfect example of how not to formulate a trade arrangement that works for American workers and the overall economy.
How do we know TPP is bad policy? In the recent past, the United States has agreed to trade deals similar to the TPP. You may remember North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and Central America Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA).
These flawed trade deals did not benefit our economy and have, in fact, cost us hundreds of thousands of jobs. As a result of these ill-advised trade deals, last year the U.S. trade deficit grew to $505 billion and we have seen the offshoring of family-supporting, middle-class jobs from every state in the union.
We have all heard the government’s proposal on TPP before, just in a different form. NAFTA and CAFTA were supposed to end undocumented immigration. The Colombia Free Trade Agreement was supposed to solve the long-standing issues of violent repression of labor unionists, and the Korea Free Trade Agreement was going to create 70,000 jobs. Not one of these promises has been fulfilled.
The evidence from 20 years of the corporate trade agenda is in. Leading economists, including Jared Bernstein, Joseph Stiglitz and Robert Reich, agree that like NAFTA and CAFTA, the TPP — as currently drafted — won’t work for working families.
What does the passing of the TPP mean for American’s working people? Fewer jobs and lower wages.
In Nebraska, we’ve lost more than 5,000 family-sustaining manufacturing jobs over the past two decades since enacting bad trade policies like NAFTA and CAFTA.
The TPP will not correct the mistakes of past free trade agreements. It doesn’t provide enforceable labor or environmental standards, fails to level the playing field in terms of state-owned enterprises, and has incredibly weak rules of origin on autos and auto parts. In particular, ContiTech Industrial Hose of Lincoln has already laid off more than 500 workers. We cannot afford to lose more good-paying, economy-supporting jobs in the state.
Furthermore, even though addressing currency manipulation is probably the most effective thing the U.S. can do to create jobs, the TPP fails to do that. The fact that enforceable currency rules continue to be absent from the TPP is alarming: It leaves working people behind and instead benefits companies that offshore jobs, often producing in sweatshops under abusive conditions. We do not tolerate these types of conditions in the United States. Why would we tolerate these types of conditions in other countries?
Additionally, groups like AARP, Doctors Without Borders and Oxfam America agree that TPP contains extreme patent protections for name-brand pharmaceuticals that threaten to restrict access to lifesaving medicines in all TPP countries, including in the United States.
Not only does it threaten access to affordable medicines by including new monopoly rights for pharmaceutical companies, we now have American drug maker Pfizer purchasing Allergan in an effort to move its headquarters to Ireland, thereby lowering its U.S. taxes at the cost of probable job loss for the employees in the United States.
The problems with the TPP are numerous, they are diverse, and we have seen them before.
Instead of passing a deal that repeats the mistakes of past trade deals, Congress should advocate for a trade agenda that will improve the lives of American working people, that will, in turn, benefit our economy.
We cannot afford to trade away any more of our jobs, and it is now time to craft a trade policy that reverses the trends set by previous trade deals like NAFTA and CAFTA.
This trade deal is a real opportunity for Congress to take a stand and demand that we not offshore more economic opportunity.
Working people in Nebraska are watching, and they expect nothing less from their elected officials.