The Washington elite in both parties are famous for their bickering over issues large and small but they seem to have found rare bipartisan agreement on the free trade deals before Congress.
A cause for celebration? Main Street USA should think again.
The multinational corporations that finance the political class in Washington are lobbying hard for Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) or Fast Track, immediately followed by the passage of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement with 11 other nations to open their markets to the “free” flow of goods and services.
Why do companies like Wal-Mart and Apple want free trade so badly with these Pacific Rim countries? The answer is simple: so they can export jobs and import cheap goods at the expense of the American worker.
Both the Fast Track and the TPP should worry average Americans who root their values in the Constitution and want an economy that works for those that work hard and play by the rules.
First, President Obama wants Fast Track authority to limit the power of Congress. According to Article I, Section 8 of the US Constitution, Congress alone has the power to “regulate commerce with foreign nations” yet Congressional Republicans want to cede that power to the president.
Although the president is granted broad negotiating powers for treaties, Fast Track guts the 2/3 requirement for Senate ratification, limits debate, eliminates amendments and requires a mere simple majority in both houses of Congress for the passage of any trade agreement under the allotted procedure.
Fast Track binds the hands of future Congresses by ceding the power of trade agreements beyond the two-year term of its current members. In other words, a popular revolt against Fast Track at the ballot box would be toothless since the sitting president would have to sign a new law repealing their own extra-Constitutional power to regulate trade without Congress’s consent.
Furthermore, the TPP and other trade agreements surrender American sovereignty to foreign bodies like the World Trade Organization’s court system, which has full jurisdiction for all trade disputes. Like previous trade agreements, TPP would bar Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) laws so Americans won’t know where the food they are eating is coming from. The TPP would even allow foreign courts to overrule US federal and state courts. This will be true for labor, environmental, tax, as well as COOL laws.
Next, if the constitutional concerns don’t give you pause, free trade’s record of destroying jobs should.
The oft-repeated claim that free trade means American goods go abroad and jobs grow at home is belied by the data. Since the U.S. signed NAFTA in 1994, the American trade deficit with the world has grown by almost 500% to $722 billion in 2014 and nearly 4 million U.S. manufacturing jobs have vanished in the post-NAFTA era.
The liberalization of trade by the United States is often a one-way street, as the U.S. knocks down trade barriers and tariffs while our supposed partners get special carve-outs or just plain cheat – dumping goods below production cost, manipulating currencies, and flat-out non-compliance with the rules they agreed to. From Chinese currency manipulation to Colombian anti-union murders, our so-called partners in “free trade” aren’t playing by the same rules.
We know how devastating the modern trade regime has been from personal experience. One of our companies was founded by Paul Revere in 1801 and is likely the oldest basic manufacturing company in the country. Revere produces copper and brass sheet, strip and coil which are shipped to other manufacturing companies mostly in North America. Since 2000, over 30% of the facilities Revere ships to in the United States have shut down and their production moved offshore. This mirrors the manufacturing job loss across the country.
These agreements pose problems for those who value free and fair competition, too. Although, American workers are the most productive in the world and earn their higher wages, they aren’t competing on a level-playing field as foreign nations manipulate their currencies to boost exports and prevent American competition. The Prime Minister of Japan, a TPP signatory and one of the most egregious currency manipulators, has made it clear Japan will walk away if currency issues are addressed in the agreement. President Obama and the Washington elite have obliged and vowed to squash any attempt to include effective currency manipulation in the TPP.
Another member of TPP, communist Vietnam, derives over a third of its GDP from so-called State-Owned Enterprises (SOEs), or government-backed companies. The Vietnamese government is so intertwined with these companies it has every reason to cheat on their behalf. Malaysia, another TPP signatory, has declared publicly its intent to continue the practice of using state resources to back government-run industries.
Our trade negotiators assure us, these SOEs will be ‘reformed’ under TPP but American lawmakers won’t know if this is true until it’s too late precisely because the final deals are being made in secret.
But under Fast Track, once the deal is struck Congress cannot amend it. It’s a take-it-or-leave-it proposition, and their multinational paymasters are unlikely to allow them to turn down the deal.
China is not one of the countries currently included in the TPP. President Obama suggests TPP will help counterbalance Chinese economic power. But the Chinese premier Mr. Li recently “expressed cautious enthusiasm for the TPP.” Perhaps this is because Li knows that Fast Track used to pass TPP includes a “docking agreement” in the TPP which will allow China to join this feast on American jobs without significant congressional review.
Famously, Nancy Pelosi told the American people that Congress had “to pass the [healthcare] bill to find out what’s in it.” This time Congressional Republicans should bother to let the American people read the bill before sacrificing our sovereignty and countless jobs to foreign powers.
Claudia Tenney is a New York State Assemblywoman and co-owner of Mid-York Press, a pharmaceutical packaging manufacturer. Brian O’Shaughnessy is the Chairman of Revere Copper, a metals manufacturer.