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Korea Trade Agreement a Preview of the Trans-Pacific Partnership: Jobs Gone!

By Michael Righi, a retried economics professor and a member of PSARA’s Education Committee

Why should it be a surprise? The Obama administration, negotiating a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) with Korea three years ago, made the usual promises – trade agreements bring jobs and prosperity! Really? The results are in. Recent data show that the U.S. trade deficit with Korea since the start of the FTA has ballooned by $12 billion. That translates to a loss of 85,000 jobs, mostly pretty good jobs in manufacturing.

We have seen this pattern with the World Trade Organization, now including China. We have seen it with the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). This is a large part of what trade agreements are about. They allow multinational corporations to locate operations where wages are lowest and import goods back into the U.S. to the shelves of WalMart and Best Buy and the warehouses of Amazon.

It’s all history, right? No, unfortunately. Trade Representative Froman is making the same claims for the TransPacific Partnership (TPP) that the Clinton administration made for NAFTA and Obama made for the Korea FTA. These agreements were supposedly going to be good for working and poor people, bringing both jobs and lower prices.

The TPP is now being negotiated by the U.S. with 12 partners such as Japan, Chile, Vietnam and Malaysia (40% of the world economy.) It is being negotiated behind closed doors, with even members of Congress having to read the text in “secure” rooms with a securitycleared staff member. What are they hiding? Surely this is not just another job-destroying trade agreement?

Of course it is. How do we know? Because that has been the pattern, and because those few allowed to participate in framing the TPP come from the largest multinational corporations on the planet. Yes, they cannot only read it; they get to write it.

Which means that the TPP is about even more than shifting production to where wages are lowest, helping to dampen wages and increase inequality in the U.S. These corporations are also trying to write a whole separate corporate-controlled judicial system into the TPP that can override local and national laws. It is called Investor-State Dispute Settlement – ISDS. (Apologies for the alphabet soup). For just one example, a program by the Province of Ontario to support local jobs in the solar-panel industry has been challenged under ISDS provisions.

There are possible provisions in the TPP that will extend patent protection for the big pharmaceutical companies’ most profitable drugs and make it harder in other ways to produce cheaper generics. The more we know, the less we like what our so-called trade representatives are up to. So, to get this monster passed once negotiations are complete, the administration is asking for “fast-track” provisions in Congress that would speed up consideration of TPP and prohibit any amendments. Is this what democracy looks like?

Labor, environmental, and social justice organizations are mobilizing against fast track and the TPP. The Seattle City Council is considering an advisory statement against fast track because the TPP poses a threat to local sovereignty (the vote may occur as this newsletter is being mailed). Call or write or go see your Congressperson. Find out more (AFL-CIO, Sierra Club, Public Citizen, Washington Fair Trade Coalition websites), and explain to them what you think trade policy should be that protects our jobs, our environment and our standard of living.

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