I've highlighted before the threat to our food and water posed by the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP) currently being negotiated by the U.S. and eleven other Pacific Rim countries. But a few recent events have shifted my attention to the other big story about which we don’t speak as much: manufacturing jobs.
Earlier this year, I traveled to New York to give a talk about the TPP and food safety. Traveling north on the train it struck me that the tracks passed through many neighborhoods filled with boarded up houses. I noticed that all of those neighborhoods had one thing in common: they all surrounded shuttered factories. Then this summer, while visiting family, I drove past the abandoned Motorola factory outside Harvard, Illinois. When I returned to work I saw a new "working paper" from economists working with the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) entitled "Import Competition and the Great U.S. Employment Sag of the 2000s" (pay walled). NBER is a nonprofit research organization that represents mainstream economic thinking. Many economists associated with NBER have gone on to work as advisors to both Democratic and Republican presidents.
The paper confirms what progressive economists have long been saying; so-called “free trade” has a massive negative effect on U.S. manufacturing employment. The authors of the paper estimate that between 1999 and 2011 the U.S. had a net job loss of 2.0 million to 2.4 million jobs because of imports from China. A quick, back of the envelope calculation shows that, were these jobs still in the U.S., it would have knocked a full percentage point off of our unemployment rate. And these aren’t just any jobs—they are more likely to be better-paying jobs with better benefits.
These job losses correspond to the period after China was given Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with the U.S. and joined the World Trade Organization (WTO). They are emblematic of what happens under pro-finance globalization. As the U.S. economy became more financialized—as it became more focused on Wall Street and less focused on Main Street—these trade deals shipped good jobs abroad.
Motorola, whose now skeletal remains I pondered in Illinois, pushed hard for PNTR status for China. According to a 2000 report by Public Citizen, Motorola spent $1 million in pro-PNTR advertising, increased it’s lobbying in Washington by more than a third, and had more lobbyists working on PNTR than it did on technology issues, which is it’s actual business.
Of course, many of the products now being produced in China and imported to the U.S. are unsafe. As Food & Water Watch reported between 2002 and 2010, 40 percent of all products recalled by the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission were manufactured in China. Those products included toothpaste tainted with antifreeze, toys tainted with lead, and toxic drywall that sickened thousands of American homeowners. There have also been concerns over tires made in China.
The TPP currently being pushed by the U.S. government could just make this problem worse. The trade deal includes a “docking agreement” that would allow any country not a party to the agreement when it’s signed to join later. And China is one country that seriously wants to join. With Vietnam’s problems with child labor and Brunei’s adoption of Sharia law, the TPP is already set to tie us to countries to which we shouldn’t be giving a free pass. The addition of China would just make it a disaster of epic proportions. More dangerous products, more tainted food, and more jobs offshored.
We deserve better. We deserve a trade agenda that creates good jobs in the U.S., that protects our food, and secures our air and water. Instead, we have the TPP. It’s trumpeted by the financial elites for whom our government’s trade agenda is run as a “gold standard,” but it’s really just fool’s gold. Over two million jobs have been lost just because of normalized trade with China; 700,000 lost because of NAFTA; 60,000 lost because of Korea Free Trade – enough is enough.
We can take back our trade agenda, but we can’t do it if Congress allows the President to “fast track” trade deals like the TPP. Write your Member of Congress today and let them know: No Fast Track.