There’s no question Wisconsin’s working families, employers and entrepreneurs would benefit from intelligent trade policies that facilitate the export of locally-made goods and services to foreign markets.
What we can’t afford are more agreements that make it easier to shift jobs throughout the globe to wherever labor is exploited and environmental regulations are the weakest.
The State Journal’s recent editorial “Tear down trade walls for Wisconsin” argues the North American Free Trade Agreement has been good for our state because it increased exports. But Wisconsin’s imports from Mexico have been 31 percent higher than our exports to Mexico over the past four years, according to Census Bureau data. It’s a standard deception used by those who favor so-called “free trade” agreements: Count the added exports, but ignore the even greater increase in imports.
It’s not just NAFTA. Under “free trade” policies with China, Wisconsin imported over 3.5 times more goods from China than we sold to them last year. And under President Barack Obama’s largest trade deal, the Korea Free Trade Agreement, Wisconsin’s bilateral trade deficit with South Korea worsened by 23 percent while total U.S. exports to that country are down.
Just as exports can create jobs, even greater levels of imports destroy them. Since NAFTA took effect Jan. 1, 1994, the U.S. Labor Department has certified 76,940 Wisconsin jobs as lost either to direct offshoring or displacement by imports. That’s a figure that primarily includes only lost manufacturing jobs. Evidence suggests service sector jobs in fields such as computer programming and call centers also have been shipped overseas.
The State Journal’s March 30 editorial acknowledges Wisconsin has suffered from trade-related job loss, stating that these policies have been “hard on businesses and workers who find that free trade exposes them as less cost-effective than competitors in other nations.” It then endorses the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership with 12 Asia-Pacific nations.
The minimum wage in TPP countries such as Vietnam is 28 cents an hour. Wisconsin businesses could be literally 25 times more “cost efficient” and still be undercut by competitors who take advantage of sweatshop working conditions overseas — and as we have seen, not just in “low tech” industries. That may be “free trade”— but it’s certainly not fair trade.
Leaked TPP texts suggest U.S. trade negotiators have pushed foreign governments hard to accept enforcement mechanisms that allow individual corporations to sue governments (including the U.S.) in international tribunals over alleged violations of intellectual property rights and even for a loss of “expected profits.” Such suits could bypass our American legal system. Proposed enforcement mechanisms for violations of human rights are nowhere near as strong.
Current trade agreements are not just about tariffs. Rather, they contain hundreds of pages of enforceable rules that have little to do with trade, but a lot to do with undermining access to medicine, energy policy, food safety and consumer information, prohibition of “buy local or buy American” government procurement rules and lower environmental protections. These are the issues multinational corporations care about the most — not tariffs.
It is disturbing that approximately 600 corporate advisers and a handful of others have had access to TPP texts, but the rest of us have been barred from knowing what U.S. negotiators have been proposing.
TPP proponents are now calling for Congress to pass “fast track” legislation that would prevent the public from ever knowing what’s proposed for the TPP until after negotiations have concluded, the pact has been signed, and amendments are prohibited.
I hope Wisconsin’s Congressional delegation sees the folly of allowing the terms of pacts this controversial to be decided in the shadows. We should urge Congress to vote against the TPP and attempts to fast track its adoption.