By leading negotiations for a new international trade pact among nine Asian and Pacific Rim nations, President Obama has the opportunity to create “a pro-worker, pro-jobs trade agreement,” a U.S. labor leader says.
In Hawaii hosting the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) summit, Obama also is continuing talks on the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). TPP would be trade agreement among the United States, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
It also is the first free trade agreement negotiated by the Obama administration. Although the president supported the recently approved trade agreements with Columbia, Panama, and South Korea, that trio of pacts originally were negotiated during the Bush administration.
The United Steelworkers (USW) union hopes the TPP represents a new kind of trade agreement, according to Leo Gerard, international president of the 850,000-member union.
“The USW appreciates the Administration’s aggressive outreach on ways that the TPP could support manufacturing and create jobs in the U.S.,” Gerard says. “We have spent considerable time with our negotiators and have offered specific ideas as to what provisions will achieve our goals. The USW is committed to working with the Administration to achieve an agreement that will strengthen U.S. manufacturing and create economic opportunity at home for all, not just the fortunate few.”
The USW position on the potential TPP represents some optimism as organized labor, and many other progressives on the left, have strongly opposed most previous large free trade deals because they’ve benefited large corporations, while costing average Americans their jobs.
The number of U.S. factory workers plunged from 17 million to about 12 million, fewer than at any time since before World War II, with many opponents of free trade deals blaming such agreements for the steep decline.
Obama and his administration have a responsibility to ensure that this and future trade agreements not only create “family-supportive” jobs in America and opportunities for U.S.-based producers to share in the benefits of trade, but to ensure there is little incentive for producers to chase the lowest labor and environmental standards in order to maintain their competitiveness in the global market, Gerard says.
“There’s a lot more work to be done and improvements in the traditional approach to trade will be necessary,” he says. “The TPP provides an opportunity to update and reform the trade rules, addressing the real challenges facing working Americans. We cannot abide by countries that maintain and erect non-tariff barriers to our products, engage in predatory practices such as currency manipulation, provide subsidies through state-owned enterprises, and simply don’t play by the same rules that we do.
The announcement over the weekend that Japan is looking at joining the TPP negotiations raises new issues and new complexity, Gerard says.
“Japan has one of the most closed markets in the world to outside players. Its web of interlocking relationships engages in many exclusionary practices,” he says. “An agreement that includes Japan must have provisions to ensure true reciprocity is achieved, not just by lowering tariffs, but through real market access as well as elimination of non-tariff barriers. And, it must address the challenges many Japanese exports will pose to American manufacturers. Other potential future participants in the TPP must know that the status quo approach is no longer acceptable.”
Scott Nance is the editor and publisher of the news site The Washington Current. He has covered Congress and the federal government for more than a decade.