After seven years of secretive negotiations, the presidential primary has finally dragged the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) from the shadows. And just in time.
The TPP is called a “trade” deal, but it’s really a deal to make trade more profitable for corporations and harder on workers. In one fell swoop, the TPP would: make it easier for corporations to offshore more American jobs; bring down wages for the jobs that remain; increase medicine prices even more; limit our ability to fight climate chaos; and flood our country with unsafe imported food.
But this unprecedented threat can only become reality if the TPP is approved by Congress and then signed into law by the president. Participating countries signed the final text of the deal on November 3. Now we must demand that every candidate for president and everyone running for Congress state a clear position on it.
A majority in Congress does not currently support the TPP, so the decision may well roll into 2017. That means one of today’s candidates for president will make the final call.
Which candidates will promise today not to send the TPP to Congress for approval if elected? Which candidates will promise today that he or she will not sign the TPP into law if Congress approves it?
Bernie Sanders has made that promise. He also has been a leader on this issue in Congress, spotlighting the fact that the job-killing deal is rotten to the core. The TPP is packed with hundreds of pages of new corporate privileges and rollbacks of the basic consumer and environmental safeguards on which we all rely. Think NAFTA on steroids, but covering 12 nations and 40 percent of the world’s economic activity and open for China and more nations to join.
Never has a trade deal garnered such unified and fierce opposition from progressive organizations and activists nationwide.
After previously declaring that the TPP sets the “gold standard” for trade and investment agreements, Hilary Clinton now says she does “not currently support it as it is written.” What is her plan on the TPP? During the New Hampshire MSNBC debate, she touted her record renegotiating “the trade agreement that we inherited from President Bush with Korea.”
But the Korea Free Trade Agreement, which was the template for the TPP, exemplifies how not to do a trade deal that benefits most Americans. In just its first three years, the U.S. trade deficit in goods with Korea swelled 90 percent. Instead of the Obama administration’s promise of “more exports, more jobs,” U.S. exports dropped 7 percent.
That trade deficit increase equates to the loss of more than 90,000 American jobs in the first three years of the Korea agreement, counting both exports and imports, according to the trade-jobs ratio that Secretary Clinton and the rest of the Obama administration used to project job gains from the deal.
Clinton also touted support for that pact by the United Auto Workers. But UAW president Dennis Williams not only strongly opposes the TPP, but says the UAW regrets having supported the Korea Free Trade deal because it cost jobs. “We’ve lost 75,000 jobs in manufacturing today since we signed that agreement,” says President Williams, “and the deficit continues to rise. That’s not a fair trade agreement.”
Given that sorry record, will Clinton commit to not sending the TPP to Congress unless and until the three issues she has repeatedly raised as the basis for her new opposition to TPP are addressed? Will she commit to stopping any TPP treaty that does not have enforceable disciplines against currency cheating in its core text? Will she eliminate the new monopoly rights that the TPP would grant to Big Pharma — rights that will raise our medicine prices? Will she demand stronger terms on labor rights terms and enforcement so the TPP does not push down Americans’ wages?
We certainly did not hear that at the debate. Instead, she talked about ensuring there was a safety net for Americans hurt by the pact. But it’s simply not possible to compensate the losers. Why? Because even when you account for for Americans’ access to cheaper imported goods, the current trade model’s downward pressure on wages outweighs those gains, making most Americans net losers.
Trade theory states that while those specific workers who lose their jobs due to imports may suffer, the vast majority of us gain from trade “liberalization” because we can buy cheaper imported goods. But when the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR) applied the actual data to the theory, they discovered that trade-related wage losses outweigh the gains from cheaper imported goods for the vast majority of Americans.
CEPR found that U.S. workers without college degrees (63 percent of the workforce) lost an amount equal to 12.2 percent of their wages, even after accounting for the cheaper goods, meaning a net loss of more than $3,400 per year for a worker earning the median annual wage. TPP would spell pay cuts for all but the 10 percent of wealthiest Americans, increasing income inequality as past free trade deals have.
Bottom line: our current trade policy needs fundamental transformation. That is what Sanders had committed to do as president and what he has fought to do since the day he entered Congress.
Now is the time when the other presidential candidates must join Sanders in committing not to send any trade deal to Congress that includes the terms found in the TPP – terms that make it easier for big corporations to offshore more American jobs.
They must promise not to pass any agreement like the TPP, which would bring down our wages by throwing Americans into competition with workers in Vietnam making less than 65 cents an hour.
Every candidate must commit not to send any trade deal to Congress that lacks enforceable rules against currency cheating in its core text, so American workers and firms have a level playing field. Every candidate must commit not to send any trade deal to Congress that includes human rights violators like TPP members Brunei, where gay people and single mothers are stoned to death, and Malaysia, where modern day slavery has made it among the worst nations for human trafficking.
Will each candidate commit to not sending any trade agreement to Congress that includes the outrageous Investor-State Dispute Settlement system? That odious system empowers foreign corporations to skirt our laws and courts, and demand billions in taxpayer compensation from private courts when the new rights and privileges pacts given them are violated by domestic policies to safeguard the environment, public health and financial stability. Oil and gas companies, financial and timber interests, and toxic waste producers have already expropriated billions from taxpayers through this kind of extrajudicial system.
It’s time to stop letting big corporations ship our jobs overseas and dump our wages and benefits overboard along the way. We’ve already seen too many lost jobs. We need trade deals that benefit working Americans, not travesties like the TPP. And we need presidential candidates who will stand with us.
Larry Cohen is the former president of the Communication Workers of America (CWA). He is the Chair of the Democracy Initiative, an advisor to the Bernie 2016 campaign, and a Senior Fellow with the Campaign for America’s Future.