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Stop Fast-Track Trade Agreement Bill in Its Tracks

 

Op-Ed in Chicago Tribune

By Congressman Dan Lipinski (IL-3)

 

President Obama and Republican congressional leaders are currently trying to pass a bill granting the president the authority to fast-track trade agreements through Congress.  If passed, Congress would then be forced to vote up-or-down on any administration-negotiated trade deals with no amendments allowed and only limited debate.  We can all agree that increasing exports and cutting our enormous trade deficit is critical to growing our economy and creating jobs, but history and commonsense tell us that fast-track is the wrong track.   

Whenever a president - Democrat or Republican - negotiates a new foreign trade agreement, he promises the American people more exports and more jobs.  But time after time, the result has been fewer American jobs, lower wages, and a bigger trade deficit.  Since NAFTA was signed, Illinois alone has lost close to 300,000 manufacturing jobs.  These were quality jobs with high wages and good benefits that supported hard-working middle class families.  Not all these job losses were due to this flawed trade agreement, but NAFTA did hurt American manufacturing.  Overall, the Economic Policy Institute estimates that NAFTA cost almost 700,000 American jobs. 

Unfortunately history keeps repeating itself, with the latest free trade agreement being no different.  The Obama Administration promised that the Korea Free Trade Agreement would produce 70,000 new jobs and soaring exports, but since it was implemented in 2012 we’ve seen a loss of 60,000 American jobs and a 25% increase in the manufactured goods trade deficit with South Korea.  Despite the failure of the Korea agreement, the Administration is using it as a template for a much larger agreement that is currently being negotiated, the Trans-Pacific Partnership or TPP.  The TPP covers 11 U.S. trading partners that account for 40% of our trade.  This would be the biggest trade deal in history.  And TPP is the first deal that would get fast-tracked.  We cannot let this endless cycle of failure to continue. 

When it comes to the content of the TPP, the Administration has already said that the agreement is not going to address the unfair practice of currency manipulation.  Currency manipulation occurs when a country interferes in the world market to keep the value of its currency at an artificially low level against the U.S. dollar in order to make American products too expensive to sell in that country.  This is major driver of our enormous trade deficit and is practiced by many TPP countries including Japan. 

In addition to the job losses, language in the TPP suggests that the agreement will take away our ability to enact environmental regulations to protect our communities and that the Investor-State Dispute Settlement system will preference corporations over our own sovereignty and the right to set state and local regulations.  But it is difficult to know for sure what exactly the TPP will do because the Administration has shrouded the agreement in secrecy.  It is very difficult even for members of Congress to see the language that is being negotiated, and when we can get access we are not allowed the help of anyone to decipher the text or to take any notes.  Essentially we are being told, “trust us.”

But that trust is very difficult and not just because of failed promises from past trade deals.  Administration officials falselyclaim that we have a trade surplus with the countries we have previously signed free trade agreements with.  But this relies on an accounting trick; for example, if $1 billion of Chinese goods get shipped through the U.S. to Canada then the U.S. Trade Representative counts this as an American trade surplus of $1 billion resulting from NAFTA.  The real numbers from the U.S. International Trade Commission’s data show a massive trade deficit with America’s free trade partners of $155 billion overall and $49 billion in manufactured goods alone.  Another bad free trade agreement will only make our trade deficit worse and cost more American jobs.

As members of Congress, our responsibility to our constituents is to closely examine and analyze the text of any trade deal being discussed and then consult with our negotiators to ensure that the agreement will create American jobs, raise wages, and safeguard the consumer and environmental protections which Americans rely upon.  Fast-track takes away our ability to do this.  Congress must say no. 

The fast-track bill has been passed in committees in both the House and the Senate, and the Senate will soon be voting on the bill, where it is expected to eventually pass.  Like the rest of the country, the Chicago region shows the scars of past trade agreements, closed factories and lost jobs.  Many local manufacturers expect more of the same, if not more, if fast-track is approved.  There’s still time to work together to protect American workers, American manufacturers, and our environment by stopping fast-track.  Americans, especially the middle class, cannot afford it.