Trans-Pacific Partnership doesn’t belong on fast track

Karla Swift

It appears that Congress is on the cusp of considering another trade deal that could potentially expand our already huge trade deficit with Pacific Rim nations. The most telling aspects of the deal are the way that Congress and the Obama administration are trying to get the deal approved, and the potential harm it could do to workers in Michigan and across the country.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement would govern trade between the U.S. and 11 other nations: Canada, Mexico, Japan, Vietnam, Chile, Peru, Brunei, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and Malaysia. Involving more than 792 million people and 40 percent of the world economy, this is the biggest trade deal in American history. It deserves a proportionate amount of review and full consideration.

It is a fact that trade is a necessary part of American economic strength. How trade deals are struck is another fact altogether. For the TPP trade agreement, supporters of the deal are trying to eliminate congressional oversight to avoid all scrutiny about how the deal would impact jobs here in America.

The Obama administration is seeking “fast track” authority, a process that circumvents congressional review and transparency about what is included in the deal. Previous trade agreements were done in a similar way and cost millions of American jobs in the manufacturing sector, including the automotive industry. The North American Free Trade Agreement and the inclusion of China in Permanent Normal Trade Relations were executed on fast track authority and are the primary culprit in our already excessive trade deficit.

Here in Michigan, the auto industry is rightly concerned about currency manipulation from countries party to the deal that have a history of the practice. Currency manipulation has been a rampant problem in existing trade deals by countries that employ the tactic to give themselves market advantage. This hurts American competitiveness. To date, issues like this have gone unaddressed. That problem will only worsen in a deal with no regard for state, regional and local interests that would otherwise be considered in a normal trade negotiation.

Under the trade deal, corporations can object to safeguards that they claim unfairly diminish their profits. Laws that ensure consumer product and food safety and workplace protections, or that limit toxic emissions, could all be at risk if an entity outside of the American political and legal system makes the judgment that those regulations impede profit generation. The American people would have no recourse and our system of protections could be undermined.

What is needed is a new process for negotiating and approving trade agreements that gives oversight to the process and prevents any further deals that will inherently erode our economic power. It is the American way to have such public inclusion in the process and fast track is an end-run around our democratic system.

Given America’s existing trade deficits, we cannot afford more flawed trade agreements that result in the flight of more industrial jobs overseas, exacerbating the chronic economic problems of stagnating wages and income inequality. It is time Congress and President Obama took a stand on behalf of the American worker and openly negotiate trade deals that are worthy of the nation they are elected to serve.

Karla Swift is president of the Michigan AFL-CIO.

Labor Voices

Labor Voices columns are written on a rotating basis by United Auto Workers President Dennis Williams, Teamsters President James Hoffa, Michigan AFL-CIO President Karla Swift and Michigan Education Association President Steven Cook.