This week saw the passage of three free-trade agreements. All smiles were seen at the press conference between President Obama and President Lee of South Korea. The free-trade agreement with South Korea was the one that passed with 83 votes in the Senate. Free traders were celebrating – except that the free-trade agreement has not passed in South Korea!
Just like in America, South Korea has not been exempt from its own politics over this trade agreement. Some of the concerns it has are exactly what many of our citizens have been concerned with: loss of jobs. The numbers vary widely.
President Obama said at his press conference there would be $11 billion in trade to the U.S. economy. The South Korean figures are about half that number. Members of Congress in favor of the bill said we would now have the opportunity to sell cars to South Korea. Members who disagreed said less than 5 percent of the cars now on the road in South Korea were made elsewhere. That is not exactly a hopeful sign if we want to export cars to the South Koreans.
One of the most disturbing aspects of the debates was some of the research quoted by the naysayers. They are looking at the legacy of the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, and see these numbers as scary. At least two members quoted the Economic Policy Institute’s research on trade, and it is not very pretty.
I will share some of the findings with you now. Before 9/11, the trade figures showed that a net total of three million jobs were lost. Gross exports rose 61.3 percent between 1994 and 2000, but imports rose by 80.5 percent. Before NAFTA and the World Trade Organization (until 2000), the Economic Policy Institute reports, the job loss due to trade deficits was half a million. Only after NAFTA and the World Trade Organization, or WTO, did the jobs go away at such
a rapid rate.
Before the vote, Rep. Dennis Kucinich reported on the job loss that his state of Ohio had experienced. He said that since NAFTA, Ohio had lost 360,477 manufacturing jobs. He also reported that since China joined the WTO in 2001, Ohio had lost 91,800 jobs due to the trade deficit with China. Across the U.S., two million jobs were lost or displaced. This situation, said Kucinich, has left more than one million people in Ohio unemployed and leaving those who are getting some kind of government assistance at 26.37 percent. Given these kind of numbers, it is no wonder the Occupy Wall Street protests continue.
Although Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, R-Texas, said Colombia has cleaned up its drug-trafficking problem and should be rewarded with a free-trade agreement, there were arguments on the other side pointing to the fact that the Colombian drug cartels (as well as Mexican cartels) have moved to Panama. In addition, Kucinich said Panama is known as one of the worse tax havens and is home to 400,000 corporations that are there to evade taxes.
Colombia may have cleaned up some of its drug business, but, as Kucinich pointed out, 51 people associated with unions and union organizing were killed just last year and 47 were killed the year before. So, perhaps it cleaned up a bit of the drug cartels, but it did not clean up the violence with regard to worker’s rights.
Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., suggested reviewing trade agreements every year. That is an idea that should happen. The American people should be able to review what is taking place beyond our borders and that the trade agreements are fair.
My questions are simple. Do we, as a country, want to support these free-trade agreements that have lost U.S. jobs? Is it fair if wages are low because union members and organizers are killed? We talk about a level playing field in this country, but why don’t we insist on it in our trade agreements.?
I called it NAFTA-Shafta back then. I must be missing something. Our trade balance is off the charts, and yet Congress passed another three agreements last week. I must not have received the memo on how these three agreements are going to create jobs, or it got lost in my email. Let’s hope these agreements are not lost on the American people.