Elites Discover So-Called “Free-Trade” Is Killing Economy, Middle Class

The New York Times editorial board finally gets it right about trade in its Sunday editorial, “This Time, Get Global Trade Right.” Some excerpts:

Many Americans have watched their neighbors lose good-paying jobs as their employers sent their livelihoods to China. Over the last 20 years, the United States has lost nearly five million manufacturing jobs.

People in the Midwest, the “rust belt” and elsewhere noticed this a long time ago as people were laid off, “the plant” closed, the downtowns slowly boarded up and the rest of us felt pressure on wages and working hours. How many towns — entire regions of the country — are like this now? Have you even seen Detroit?

“This page has long argued that removing barriers to trade benefits the economy and consumers, and some of those gains can be used to help the minority of people who lose their jobs because of increased imports,” the editors write. “But those gains have not been as widespread as we hoped, and they have not been adequate to assist those who were harmed.”

So acknowledging that our trade deals have hurt the country, they say maybe we could try to do it right with coming agreements. They write:

If done right, these agreements could improve the ground rules of global trade, as even critics of Nafta like Representative Sander Levin, Democrat of Michigan, have argued. They could reduce abuses like sweatshop labor, currency manipulation and the senseless destruction of forests. They could weaken protectionism against American goods and services in countries like Japan, which have sheltered such industries as agriculture and automobiles.

They write that one problem is that these agreements are negotiated of, by and for the giant corporations:

One of the biggest fears of lawmakers and public interest groups is that only a few insiders know what is in these trade agreements, particularly the Pacific pact.

The Obama administration has revealed so few details about the negotiations, even to members of Congress and their staffs, that it is impossible to fully analyze the Pacific partnership. Negotiators have argued that it’s impossible to conduct trade talks in public because opponents to the deal would try to derail them.

But the administration’s rationale for secrecy seems to apply only to the public. Big corporations are playing an active role in shaping the American position because they are on industry advisory committees to the United States trade representative, Michael Froman. By contrast, public interest groups have seats on only a handful of committees that negotiators do not consult closely.

The current trade-negotiation process is a system designed to rig the game for the giant multinationals against everyone else:

That lopsided influence is dangerous, because companies are using trade agreements to get special benefits that they would find much more difficult to get through the standard legislative process. For example, draft chapters from the Pacific agreement that have been leaked in recent months reveal that most countries involved in the talks, except the United States, do not want the agreement to include enforceable environmental standards. Business interests in the United States, which would benefit from weaker rules by placing their operations in countries with lower protections, have aligned themselves with the position of foreign governments. Another chapter, on intellectual property, is said to contain language favorable to the pharmaceutical industry that could make it harder for poor people in countries like Peru to get generic medicines.

These trade agreements place corporate rights over national sovereignty:

Another big issue is whether these trade agreements will give investors unnecessary power to sue foreign governments over policies they dislike, including health and environmental regulations. Philip Morris, for example, is trying to overturn Australian rules that require cigarette packs to be sold only in plain packaging. If these treaties are written too loosely, big banks could use them to challenge new financial regulations or, perhaps, block European lawmakers from enacting a financial-transaction tax.

And they’re asking, like the rest of us are asking, why in the world won’t they do something about currency?

It’s easy to point the finger at Nafta and other trade agreements for job losses, but there is a far bigger culprit: currency manipulation. A 2012 paper from the Peterson Institute for International Economics found that the American trade deficit has increased by up to $500 billion a year and the country has lost up to five million jobs because China, South Korea, Malaysia and other countries have boosted their exports by suppressing the value of their currency.

What So-Called “Free Trade” Agreements Did To The Economy

A trade deficit means that we buy more from the rest of the world than we sell to it. This means that jobs making and doing things here migrate to there. Before the mid-70s the United States ran generally balanced trade, with a bias toward surplus. Look at this chart to see what happened, beginning in the ’80s, and then … wham.

Now we have an enormous, humongous, ongoing trade deficit that over the years has added up to trillions and trillions of dollars drained from our economy. We have lost millions and millions of jobs as tens of thousands of factories closed. We have lost entire industries. We are losing our entire middle class to the resulting wage stagnation and inequality.

Here is what happened when the trade deficit took off. First, look at this chart of the “decoupling” of wages with productivity. In other words, as productivity goes up, what happens to the share of those gains that go to labor:

In case you don’t see the correlation, this chart shows both the trade deficit and labor’s share of the benefits of our economy:

Most people understand the damage that so-called “free trade” has done to the economy, much of our country and the middle class. Millions of people have outright lost their jobs because of corporate CEOs who conclude, “It’s cheaper to manufacture where they pay 50 cents an hour and let us pollute all we want.”

Many others have felt the resulting job fear: “If I so much as hint that I want a raise or weekends off they’ll move my job to China, too.” Entire regions have lost their economic base as factories and entire industries closed and moved.

But We Globalized And Expanded Trade

The basic pro-free-trade argument is that all trade is good and these agreements increase trade. NAFTA negotiator Carla Hills, defending NAFTA, says, “our trade with Mexico and Canada has soared 400 percent, and our investment is up fivefold.”

Of course, this is like proudly telling people that the Broncos scored 8 points in the 2014 Super Bowl*. (Hint: the Seahawks scored 43 points.)

Yes, trade is up and exports are up, but imports are up even more, which costs us jobs, factories and industries. What happened was NAFTA “expanded” trade against American workers and our economy, costing about a million jobs and increasing our trade deficit 480 percent. And don’t even ask what happened with our China trade. (Hint: our 2013 trade deficit with China was 318.4 billion dollars.)

How Would The N.Y. Times Fix Trade?

The Times editorial says we should “press countries to stop manipulating their currencies” and “the president also needs to make clear to America’s trading partners that they need to adhere to enforceable labor and environmental regulations.”

OK, but why would the giant multinationals participate? The point of the free-trade regime up to now has been to accomplish the opposite: to free the giants from the pesky laws and regulations imposed by governments, especially from labor and environmental regulations. The negotiations have been a rigged game designed to transfer the wealth of entire nations to a few billionaires (including Chinese billionaires) and giant, multinational corporations. It worked.

Meanwhile … In The L.A. Times

Meanwhile in the Los Angeles Times, representatives George Miller (D-Calif.), Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) and Louise Slaughter (D-N.Y.) have written an op-ed, “Free trade on steroids: The threat of the Trans-Pacific Partnership,” talk about NAFTA as a “model for additional agreements, and its deeply flawed approach has resulted in the outsourcing of jobs, downward pressure on wages and a meteoric rise in income inequality,” and ask us not to “blindly endorse any more unfair NAFTA-style trade agreements, negotiated behind closed doors, that threaten to sell out American workers, offshore our manufacturing sector and accelerate the downward spiral of wages and benefits.”

In 1993, before NAFTA, the U.S. had a $2.5-billion trade surplus with Mexico and a $29-billion deficit with Canada. By 2012, that had exploded into a combined NAFTA trade deficit of $181 billion. Since NAFTA, more than 845,000 U.S. workers in the manufacturing sector — and this is likely an undercount — have been certified under just one narrow program for trade adjustment assistance. They qualified because they lost their jobs due to increased imports from Canada and Mexico, or the relocation of factories to those nations.

The recent Korea free trade agreement followed the NAFTA model and the results have already proven terrible for American workers:

Obama said it would support “70,000 American jobs from increased goods exports alone.” In reality, U.S. monthly exports to South Korea fell 11% in the pact’s first two years, imports rose and the U.S. trade deficit exploded by 47%. This led to a net loss of tens of thousands of U.S. jobs in this pact’s first two years.

They conclude:

There are many things we can do to enhance our competitiveness with China and in the global economy.

We can invest in our own infrastructure, manufacturing and job training. We can work harder to address issues like currency manipulation, unfair subsidies for state-owned enterprises in other nations and global labor protections. We can enter deals that increase U.S. exports while doing right by our workers and our priorities, and we can address the real foreign policy challenges in Asia with appropriate policies instead of through a commercial agreement that could weaken the United States and its allies.

What we should not do is blindly endorse any more unfair NAFTA-style trade agreements, negotiated behind closed doors, that threaten to sell out American workers, offshore our manufacturing sector and accelerate the downward spiral of wages and benefits.

No New Trade Agreements, Instead Fix The Ones We Have

Of course, as we reach consensus that we got trade wrong, and realize how these “NAFTA-style” agreements have done so much damage to our economy and middle class, doesn’t this mean it is time to back up and renegotiate NAFTA and others?

*P.S. The 2014 Super Bowl started at 6:30 p.m. on Sunday, February 2, 2014.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

No Fast Track To TPP: Fix NAFTA First

The big corporations and the Obama administration are trying to push through a giant new trade treaty that gives corporations even more power, and which will send even more jobs, factories, industries and money out of the country. This is the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) and they are pushing something called “fast track” in Congress to help push it through.

We have to stop this, and we should take the momentum we have generated in our push-back on this to demand Congress and President Obama instead fix NAFTA first. Then fix all of our trade relationships to help working people on all sides of our borders.

TPP, Fast Track And NAFTA

There has been a lot of news about the upcoming TPP trade agreement. The agreement is being negotiated in extreme secrecy in a corporate-dominated process that appears to be leading to an agreement that would give corporations even more power than they already have. Now there is a push to pass a process called fast track through Congress in order to enable the large corporations to strong-arm TPP into law mobilized organizations around the country to sound the alarm.

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Are ‘Globalization’s’ Costs Inevitable?

You hear often that we “live in a global world now.” You hear that “globalization” means we have to drop our wages and standards to match those in impoverished, Third-World countries. You hear that the “cost” of controlling pollution makes us uncompetitive in the world. Etc. Etc. Etc. It’s inevitable – a force of nature – so don’t fight it, they say. This is endlessly repeated as if we weren’t in a “global” world when the first camel crossed a border or the first sailing ship crossed a sea. But since that first camel countries have enacted policies to make things better for their people.

Sunday’s New York Times published an op-ed, “The Myth of Industrial Rebound,” by Steven Rattner, one more wealthy Wall Street executive who revolved through the door from being an Obama administration official after he revolved through the door from being a Wall Street executive. In his op-ed Rattner accurately describes many of our economy’s problems but concludes that we should let these things just happen to us because, “In a flattened world, there will always be another China.”

Rattner points out that many of the new manufacturing jobs are low-wage. “This disturbing trend is particularly pronounced in the automobile industry. When Volkswagen opened a plant in Chattanooga … the beginning wage for assembly line workers was $14.50 per hour, about half of what traditional, unionized workers employed by General Motors or Ford received.” Meanwhile, “in Germany, the average autoworker earns $67 per hour. … Volkswagen has moved production from a high-wage country (Germany) to a low-wage country (the United States).”

Rattner is correct that falling wages are slowing economic recovery. “These dispiriting wage trends are a central reason for the slow economic recovery; without sustained income growth, consumers can’t spend.”

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Watch: What One-Sided Trade Pacts Are Doing To Our Jobs

I was on “The Nicole Sandler Show” recently talking about the one-sided trade agreements we’ve been tricked into and the damage they do to the economy. It’s also quite entertaining. Seriously, it is. Bad puns, jokes and, of course, Nicole!!

On the show I talk about what the 2012 $540 billion trade deficit means. “Imagine if factories in America got orders for $540 billion of goods… the economy would be booming. … that was just one year of our trade deficit.”

The show was partly based on my recent post, New Fast-Track Bill Means Higher Trade Deficits and Lost Jobs.

And check out RadioOrNot.com.

PS Nicole and I are buddies and I’m on the show once in a while, so I can get away with terrible jokes and puns.
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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

NAFTA At 20: 1 Million Lost Jobs, 580% Increase In Trade Deficit

Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch has issued a new report, NAFTA at 20: One Million U.S. Jobs Lost, Mass Displacement and Instability in Mexico, Record Income Inequality, Scores of Corporate Attacks on Environmental and Health Laws. The report compares the promises with which NAFTA was sold with the results we can measure 20 years later.

NAFTA was not just a “trade” agreement. Trade agreements focus on cutting tariffs and easing quotas and barriers to goods moving across borders. The report points out that NAFTA was much more, giving corporations special rights, incentivizing offshoring and limiting regulation. As the report puts it,

“NAFTA created new privileges and protections for foreign investors that incentivized the offshoring of investment and jobs by eliminating many of the risks normally associated with moving production to low-wage countries. NAFTA allowed foreign investors to directly challenge before foreign tribunals domestic policies and actions, demanding government compensation for policies that they claimed undermined their expected future profits. NAFTA also contained chapters that required the three countries to limit regulation of services, such as trucking and banking; extend medicine patent monopolies; limit food and product safety standards and border inspection; and waive domestic procurement preferences, such as Buy American.”

Some of the effects of NAFTA that are highlighted in the report include,

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On TPP Call USW’s Leo Gerard Nails A Key Point

I joined a conference call yesterday that talked about the upcoming Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) trade agreement and the “Fast Track” process that the big corporations are trying to push on Congress to smooth the way for them to push this “trade’ deal through.

The call was hosted by Lori Wallach of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch. Also on the call were:
U.S. Representative Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.)
U.S. Representative Louise Slaughter (D-NY)
Leo Gerard, President, United Steelworkers (USW)
Larry Cohen, President, Communication Workers of America (CWA)
James Hoffa, President, Intl Brotherhood of Teamsters
Michael Brune, Executive Director, Sierra Club

This was an involved, comprehensive discussion with a lot of information, and I will write more about the issues covered in future posts. But there was one statement that I think just nails the key point about the results of previous agreements that our country has managed to get itself into. It was made by USW’s Leo Gerard and I’ll let his words make the point:

In all the trade deals we’ve done since 1994, for those of you on the call from the press and friends in the political process, I think these are important numbers you should take a very close look at: in the period of time from 1994 to October 2013, America has accumulated an overall trade deficit of $8.3 trillion. And, if you subtract goods and services where we’ve been able to export certain services like accounting and stuff like that – that we have a slight surplus in – if you subtract that, the deficit in manufactured goods is over $10 trillion.

This should be the deficit that we’re looking at, rather than the one that keeps getting thrown up by some Democrats and rightwing Republicans.

And then if you go through this deal, before you look at this deal you have to look at all of the previous deals and ask “which one of these that we’ve done has resulted in net job gains and net trade surplus for America?” And you know what the answer is? None.

So in this deal, they’re looking at what are we going to do about state-owned enterprises that we’re supposed to compete with? We’ve got workers that can compete with any company, but they can’t compete with countries. What are they going to do about rules of origin? Put things in perspective: for example in NAFTA, to be country of origin you need 62.5% domestic content. The U.S.-Australia deal went 50%. The U.S.-South Korea deal went to 35%. Where will this one take us? We’re supposed to compete with countries that are getting their parts from China, Vietnam, Brunei, and exporting materials to here, when if they have 35% of material from their country they’re called ‘a domestic product’? That’s crazy.”

Later in the call Leo said, “The politicians keep telling us the same song and dance that turns out not to be the truth. We’ve lost five million manufacturing jobs. The public gets it, and the politicians don’t.”

What This Says

Leo nailed the key point about the trade deals we have gotten ourselves into. We have not yet found ourselves in a good, balanced trade deal that helps the country instead of just a few billionaires. In all of the trade deals we have made, the country has lost money and has lost jobs.

And why is this? Because these deals are not being negotiated to help the country, they are being negotiated to help a few giant corporations and the billionaires these corporations represent. The process leads to deals that dramatically enrich the 1% while they kill off the economic participation of the rest of us in our economy.

The trade deals we have entered into allow companies to move jobs and factories to countries with low democracy and therefore low wages and little if any environmental protection. So things made there cost less than things made here. This undermines our country and our democracy — but it enriches the few who own and/or run these giant corporations. Because it opens them up to move jobs wherever they want our unions are broken, unemployment is kept high (on purpose) and employers can threaten the remaining workers with moving their jobs, too, if they don’t accept cuts.

You can listen to the audio recording of this call: http://www.conferenceplayback.com/stream/98120468/48264901.mp3

And now for your entertainment: All our trade deal are belong to them.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Here’s A Fresh, New Idea: Hire Some People To Fix Infrastructure!

Washington is embroiled in a round of budget-cutting fervor. There is a “budget conference” going on. There are rumors that “deals” are being made behind closed doors. How much to cut? Who to hurt? Who to lay off or furlough next?

Here’s the thing. The American Majority wants jobs. They want Congress working on jobs. (They also want Congress working on jobs for more than 5 days this month.)

Here’s a fresh, new idea: hire some people to fix the aging infrastructure. Ever since the Reagan tax cuts the country has been deferring essential maintenance. Everyone said, “If you do this, later you’ll be sorry.” Now it’s later, and we’re really sorry. Bridges are falling down. The power grid is ridiculous, as in “worthy of ridicule.” Etc., etc. We’re $3.6 trillion behind — $3.6 trillion that went out to the wealthy as tax cuts instead of used for infrastructure investment. P.S. click that link.

How many people would be hired if we just caught up to doing that deferred infrastructure maintenance — never mind crisp, new, modern, energy-efficient, 21st-century power grid and ports and roads and rail that would increase our country’s competitiveness internationally? $3.6 trillion of work that has to be done anyway, and we really need to employ Americans today. The longer we hold off, the more it costs and the more damage is done.

Speaking of damage done, here’s a simple infrastructure idea: hire some people to install speed regulation systems in trains.

It isn’t hard to realize this. In fact, not hiring people to fix the infrastructure now is intentional. It’s about keeping unemployment high and taxes on the wealthy low. Desperate, hungry people don’t ask for raises, and don’t demand their rights. They’ll take any nasty, humiliating, low-wage job they can find and will be told they should be thankful to have it.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

Why Do We The People Have To Read TPP On Wikileaks?

We the People finally get to read one chapter of the 29-chapter Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement. If this agreement becomes law it will fundamentally alter the relationship between our government, other governments and giant multinational corporations, so you’d think America’s citizens would want to have a say in the negotiations. But the only reason We the People get to even read it at all is because it was leaked to Wikileaks.

Wikileaks Obtains TPP Chapter

Wikileaks has obtained one of the chapters of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement that is being negotiated in secret. This leaked section is the chapter about patents, copyrights, trademarks, industrial design and other “intellectual property.” Note that this has little or nothing to do with “trade.”

This chapter is from August, and it is unknown how the chapter may have changed between then and now. The chapter indicates that the US is pushing hard to get strong “protections” for giant telecommunications companies and pharmaceutical patent-holders.

WikiLeaks’ Editor-in-Chief Julian Assange said this in the announcement that Wikileaks had obtained the chapter text,

“If instituted, the TPP’s IP regime would trample over individual rights and free expression, as well as ride roughshod over the intellectual and creative commons. If you read, write, publish, think, listen, dance, sing or invent; if you farm or consume food; if you’re ill now or might one day be ill, the TPP has you in its crosshairs.”

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Economic Sabotage: Republicans Obstruct Infrastructure Work

There is consensus across the (sane) spectrum that the country absolutely needs to repair and modernize our infrastructure. There is widespread agreement this will help the economy now and in the future, and will create jobs. But Republicans in Congress refuse to allow infrastructure projects to proceed. Why? Because doing so will help the economy now and in the future, and will create jobs. Republicans in Congress are committing economic sabotage, and they know it.

Consensus

There is a bipartisan consensus — it even includes the Chamber of Commerce! — that the country has fallen behind and must maintain and modernize our infrastructure for the good of our economy.

President Obama talked about infrastructure in Jacksonville in July, saying,

We know strong infrastructure is a key ingredient to a thriving economy. That’s how the United States became the best place in the world to do business.

On the other end of things the Chamber of Commerce’s “Jobs & Growth Agenda” includes a section on “Reliable and Secure Infrastructure.” The Chamber says,

The U.S. Chamber is leading the charge to improve the quality of America’s infrastructure—whether it’s transportation, energy, or water networks—all of which directly impact our ability to compete in the global economy.

By modernizing our national infrastructure, we can improve commercial efficiency, increase U.S. competitiveness in the global economy, and create much-needed jobs in the near term.

Here are just a few of the other voices supporting a boost in infrastructure spending:

USA Today, USA’s creaking infrastructure holds back economy

Fareed Zakaria, Fixing infrastructure would help fix economy

Alliance for American Manufacturing, How Infrastructure Investments Support the U.S. Economy: Employment, Productivity and Growth

Business Insider, STUDY: Every $1 Of Infrastructure Spending Boosts The Economy By $2

Consensus vs. Obstruction

The Chamber of Commerce might say they are “leading the charge” but the Republicans in the Congress are obstructing the troops.

After the President asked for just a bit more infrastructure work, please, the Senate Republican leader responded, “No!” The House Republican leader has said that fixing the infrastructure is “more stimulus spending doomed to fail.”

The kook right (perhaps that should read “Koch right”) that really “leads the charge” for Republicans these days says Infrastructure Spending Is Not the Federal Government’s Business or that infrastructure spending is just more “big government.” Heritage Foundation claims here that government spending on infrastructure “takes money out of the economy”. Some of the (Koch-funded) kooks even actually claim that investing in infrastructure hurts the economy.

Obstruction Agenda Is Sabotage, Not Ideology

Look at this chart from the Financial Times’ FT Alphaville, The collapse of US infrastructure spending, charted:

This looks like lots of other recent charts, like the ones that show consumer confidence plunging in the face of Republican obstruction of everything (and especially their repeated hostage-taking over the debt-ceiling and their shutting down the government.) It is clear all of these things hurt the economy, and they continue to do them.

Maintaining the infrastructure is not about ideology. Even the conservative Chamber of Commerce understands that you have to maintain the roads and bridges, etc., and that it damages the economy if you don’t. And yet we don’t, and the obstruction continues.

So this is about a different agenda. Paul Krugman says it best at his blog,

This kind of behavior — ever-shifting rationales for an unchanging policy (see: Bush tax cuts, invasion of Iraq, etc.) — is a “tell”. It says that something else is really motivating the policy advocacy.

It is past time to argue that the Republican obstruction is hurting the economy, because it just is, and they know it. It is also past time to argue that they are doing this for some kind of ideological reason. Investing in infrastructure is not about ideology. Austerity is not about ideology.

Hurting the economy is not about ideology. There is a different agenda at work here. This is not an argument between differing visions of how best to help our economy. When this much is being done, hurting the economy again and again, and when the results of these actions are clearly that we are all being harmed, and yet it continues, this is not an accident. It is an agenda.

Economic Sabotage — Why?

So it is past time to argue if they are hurting the economy – that is settled. It is economic sabotage. There is no longer any question.

Now it is time to talk about why they are doing this.

Is it to damage Democratic election prospects? Are they betting that by making everyone feel enough pain, and blaming Democrats and President Obama, they can make people forget who got us into this mess? Do they think that economic sabotage will get them votes? That is the most charitable theory. Considering that much of the funding of the apparatus of the right that is behind this is secret, there are worse conclusions that could understandably be reached.

TPP/Fast Track Fight Is On

You’ve probably been hearing warnings about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) “trade” agreement that is being negotiated. And you might have heard that the big corporations are going to push to use something called “fast track” trade promotion authority (TPA) to push it through.

It’s time to learn about TPP and fast track, and then call your member of Congress to let them know if you want them to hand the giant multinationals an end-run around democracy and national sovereignty.

The Fast Track Push Is Coming

“Fast track” trade promotion authority, if passed, means Congress yields its constitutional authority and obligation to review and amend trade agreements. A “fast track” treaty has to be voted on quickly, cannot be amended, and Congress has to give it an up-or-down vote.

The U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Michael Froman is pushing Congress to pass “fast track,” in hope of pushing through the TPP agreement by the end of the year. Politico lays it out, in “Froman pushing Congress to finalize trade deals,”

President Barack Obama was often criticized in his first term for moving too slowly on trade, but now his chief negotiator is pressing Congress to pick up the pace as the White House pushes to conclude a landmark trade deal in the Asia-Pacific by the end of the year.

[. . .] Froman and his team at USTR are pushing to finish the TPP talks by the end of the year, putting pressure on Congress to move a TPA bill to set the stage for the final phase of talks.

Fast Track To Push TPP

The next “trade” treaty will be the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). This is a huge treaty with only a small part covering trade. Most of the agreement (according to leaks) sets down a new kind of regulatory structure for the giant corporations that would supersede the ability of any country to rein them in. The treaty is being negotiated in secret with only business interests “at the table.” Representatives of others with a stake in the outcome are not part of the process. Groups representing the interests of consumers, labor, human rights, the environment, democracy or even smaller and innovative companies that might want to compete with the giant multinationals are not part of the negotiations.

Economist Dean Baker explains that TPP is not about “free trade” and growth, writing,

Of course the TPP is not about free trade, in most cases the formal trade barriers between the countries negotiating the pact are relatively low. The main thrust of the negotiations is to impose a regulator structure in a wide range of areas — health, safety, environmental — which will override national and sub-national rules. This has little to do with trade and in some cases, such as the increased patent protection for prescription drugs being pushed as part of the deal (which is noted in the article), will actually involve increased barriers to trade.

In The Trans-Pacific Partnership: A Trade Agreement for Protectionists, Baker writes, “The

TPP is about crafting rules that will favor big business at the expense of the rest of the population in both the United States and in other countries.

… The world has benefited from the opening of trade over the last four decades. But this opening has been selective so that, at least in the United States, most of the gains have gone to those at the top. It is possible to design trade deals that benefit the population as a whole, but not when corporate interests are literally the negotiators at the table.

Other “Trade” Agreements Have Cost Us Dearly

One after another “trade” agreements come along that, rather than helping lift the working people of the world, instead help the multinationals use exploited workers to break unions and lower wages. These agreements also let companies manufacture in countries that do not require environmental protection while bringing the resulting lower-priced goods here with no added cost at the border, undermining our own protections. Allowing these things makes our democracy, and its good wages and protections, a competitive disadvantage in world markets.

Previous trade agreements were passed with the promise of increases in growth and wages here, but the opposite has resulted. And they have increased rather than reduced our trade deficits. They have only served to enrich the already-wealthy.

NAFTA: According to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI) briefing paper “Heading South: U.S.-Mexico trade and job displacement after NAFTA,” “As of 2010, U.S. trade deficits with Mexico totaling $97.2 billion had displaced 682,900 U.S. jobs.” (That is net jobs, taking into account jobs gained.)

China: In August, 2012 EPI estimated that the U.S. lost 2.7 million jobs as a result of the U.S.-China trade deficit between 2001 and 2011, 2.1 million of them in manufacturing. Aside from job losses wages US wages fell due to the competition with cheap Chinese labor costing a typical household with two wage-earners around $2,500 per year.

Columbia – “murders and threats”: A report issued Monday by Reps. George Miller (D-Calif.) and James McGovern (D-Mass.) titled The U.S.-Colombia Labor Action Plan: Failing on the Ground says,

Despite the LAP, murders and threats against union members and harmful subcontracting persist in Colombia largely unabated. At a minimum, 413 threats were documented, and 22 trade unionists were murdered for their union involvement in 2012.1 On April 1, 2013, the 991st death threat against a member of the labor movement was received since President Juan Manuel Santos became president in June 2011.2 Because of the fear of violence or employer retaliation associated with organizing or joining a union and the prevalence of anti-union and anti-worker prejudice, only four percent of Colombian workers are union members.

[. . .] “The members of the delegation conclude that the Government of Colombia is woefully falling short of compliance with the Labor Action Plan, and in many cases, these shortfalls have made working conditions for workers worse than before it came into effect,” the report said. “Before asking Congress to approve another trade agreement, such as the TPP, which poses similar labor and human rights issues, the Administration must first demonstrate concrete and effective improvements in workers’ rights on the ground in Colombia under the Labor Action Plan.”

Korea: EPI reported in July that the U.S.-Korea free trade agreement had already cost the U.S. 40,000 jobs and increased our trade deficit by $5.8 billion. According to EPI,

The tendency to distort trade model results was evident in the Obama administration’s insistence that increasing exports under KORUS would support 70,000 U.S. jobs. The administration neglected to consider jobs lost from the increasing imports and a growing bilateral trade deficit. In the year after KORUS took effect, the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea increased by $5.8 billion, costing more than 40,000 U.S. jobs. Most of the 40,000 jobs lost were good jobs in manufacturing.

Promises, Promises

The Politico story quoted above claims that President Obama is criticized for “moving too slowly on trade.” If anything, President Obama is criticized for promising in his 2008 campaign to renegotiate NAFTA, and reneging once in office.

[fve]http://youtu.be/PF9gpvI2UfU[/fve]

Get Informed

If you want to help stop “fast track,” call your member of Congress today!

Sign up for action alerts on fast track and TPP at Trade Watch.

Visit Stop TPP.

Visit the Eyes on Trade blog

Expose the TPP is a great action oriented site.

There’s also Flush the TPP.

The AFL-CIO recent convention passed a plan for people-oriented trade. Read the resolution here.

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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary

A Corporate Tax Idea That Fixes Lots Of Problems

Here is one thing Congress could do that would create more jobs, boost the economy and reduce both the budget deficit and the trade deficit. This one thing would not only provide a big boost now, but would provide an ongoing boost from now on. Congress should modify the “deferral” tax loophole that lets companies dodge their taxes by moving and keeping profits “out of the country.” Tax this cash at 5% a year.

The top corporate tax rate is currently 35%. But corporations are allowed to “defer” paying taxes on profits earned outside of the country until they “repatriate” those profits, which means bringing the money back into the country. (Any taxes paid elsewhere are deducted from the amount owed.) There are solid reasons to allow corporations to do this. Simply put, they might need to put that money to good use, which will benefit the company, which in theory will later benefit our country.

But this tax deferral has turned into a huge loophole that is draining our country of jobs, tax revenue, investment, manufacturing infrastructure and other good things We the People are supposed to receive in return for allowing these corporations to operate. Companies not only are keeping profits out of the country, the loophole gives them an incentive to engage in schemes that shift more and more jobs, production and profit centers out of the country. (One well-known example: Apple transferred ownership of it’s “crown jewels” — “intellectual property” — to Ireland.)

A Ton Of Cash That We The People Could Really Put To Use

The amount now being held outside of the country is astounding. Some estimates say that it is as much as $1.5 to 2 trillion, or even more. If the full amount were brought back and the tax rate applied that would bring a $525-700 billion windfall that the government could use to hire people to get things done that really, really need to get done like modernizing our infrastructure, hiring teachers, building high-speed rail, retrofitting homes and buildings to be energy-efficient … so many things… (Of course it would be less because of taxes paid elsewhere, etc., but we’re still talking hundreds of billions.)

And, of course, after that $1.5-2 trillion is brought back and the appropriate taxes are paid the rest would either be invested or distributed to shareholders — another nice boost to the economy.

Beyond the one-time windfall from bringing that cash back there would be two other major effects of changing this deferral loophole. The first, of course, is that tens of billions of revenue now withheld each year would be coming in to be taxed, thereby reducing the budget deficit. But perhaps more important, the incentive to move jobs, factories and profit centers (“crown jewels”) out of the country would be eliminated, so companies would keep factories and jobs here.

 Why They Do It

The reason so much $$ is being kept away is that companies have good reason to believe that eventually they will be allowed to bring it back without paying the taxes they owe. Congress made a huge mistake in 2004 and gave corporations a “tax repatriation holiday.” They allowed companies that were holding profits outside of the country to bring those profits back without paying all of the taxes due. This created the expectation that Congress will of course do this again (and again). So, not looking a gift horse in the mouth, companies started to find ways to increase their outside-the-country profits and reduce their inside-the-country profits. Jobs, factories, production, profit centers (desks, chairs, carpets…) and everything else that could be moved out of the country started to be … moved out of the country. And it gets worse every year.

Solution: Put A Surtax On Money Held Outside The Country

Some people say we should just repeal the rule that lets companies defer taxes due on profits earned outside of the country until they bring it home. But that undoes the benefits that were the original reason to allow deferral.

Here is a simple idea that could go a long way toward solving this problem. Don’t eliminate the deferral, tax it. As I said, there are good reasons to allow it in certain instances. Instead, put a surtax on profits held outside of the country. Just for illustration, suppose this surtax was 5%. This means that if a company decides to keep $1 billion of profits outside of the country, they would pay 5% of that, $50 million, each year they do this. This is not later used to reduce the amount of taxes due when they eventually bring the money home; when they finally “repatriate” the profits they would be still taxed at the same rate as now (up to 35% minus taxes paid elsewhere, etc.) But instead of gaining from keeping the money out of the country, it instead costs them 5% each year they keep it out.

Of course, this must be coupled with the end of any hope that Congress will eventually give in to hostage-taking and let companies bring profits back at some reduced rate. That was a mistake that has cost the country dearly in lost revenue, jobs, factories, profit centers, (desks, chairs, carpets…) and also cost the country money that should be either invested or distributed to shareholders.

If the companies decide to continue to hold that $1.5-2 trillion outside of the country this surtax would bring the government between $75 and $100 billion per year of additional tax revenue, and these companies would also eventually have to bring it back and pay the up-to-$700 billion due in taxes as well. I’d be happy with that, and so would the country.
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This post originally appeared at Campaign for America’s Future (CAF) at their Blog for OurFuture. I am a Fellow with CAF. Sign up here for the CAF daily summary