Congress Should Reject Trade Promotion Agreement

06/15/2015 11:19 am ET | Updated Jun 14, 2016

Congress should reject the pending Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) proposal, which is merely a legislative contrivance to force expedited consideration of another free-trade agreement (the about-to-be-completed 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership, TPP) without amendment. The American people deserve an open debate on the objectives of any forthcoming trade agreement in the context of restoring balance to the nation's deteriorating economy, which is imperiling national security. Congress must reclaim its constitutional prerogative in setting trade policies and rebuff the importuning of White House and multinational corporate lobbyists who piously shower us with claims that another trade agreement, like NAFTA before it, is in the nation's best interests. If TPP is NAFTA on steroids, then the American worker should duck for cover before the asteroids land.

Several reasons justify rejection of this so-called fast-track proposal at this time. First, the United States suffers from chronic trading deficits that are woefully out of whack. The overall balance-of-payments deficit between 1999 and 2014 topped $9 trillion. In the goods-producing sector, most of which is manufacturing, the cumulative deficit reached about $11.5 trillion. These deficits have hallowed our industrial base and made our nation's defense dangerously dependent on foreign sources. The trade deficit in the advanced technology sector, where we were once thought to be the world's leader, totaled almost $440 billion in the five short years between 2010 and 2014. Since 1999, the United States has run a cumulative trade deficit of well over $3 trillion with China. And the deficit it ran with the 11 other nations, which include Japan, Vietnam, and Mexico, of the TPP amounted to nearly $150 billion in 2014.

Second, the nation's elected leaders need to make sure that we have a set of policies in place to restore American manufacturing and protect American workers before rushing to approve any new trade agreement, especially one that covers 40 percent of the world's economy. Proponents of these trade agreements have repeatedly argued that they necessarily produce winners and losers but that in the end the society overall benefits. Right now, however, it seems like there are a lot more losers than winners, and none of us may ever live to see the end. The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) estimates that NAFTA has cost the U.S. over 700,000 jobs, including more than 400,000 in manufacturing (remember presidential candidate H. Ross Perot's warning the nation in 1992 about the "giant sucking sound going south" to Mexico that he would hear if NAFTA passed). Since 1999, we have accumulated a trade deficit of over $718 billion with Mexico, with major U.S. companies in auto and other sectors just recently flocking to build plants there to take advantage of lower wages. In addition, EPI has estimated that the U.S. has lost hundreds of thousands of manufacturing jobs due to currency manipulation by Japan, where the cumulative trade deficit between 1999 and 2014 was higher than $900 billion. As noted, both Japan and Mexico are participating in the contemplated TPP, and they undoubtedly would take even further advantage of their trading situation with the U.S. under the new agreement than they do under current circumstances.

Third, the deindustrialization of the American economy has destroyed countless communities and lives. It has led to the lowering of living standards and the stagnating of wages for multitudes. In addition, the exportation of manufacturing has fueled rising economic inequality and generated a plethora of fiscal problems for governments at all levels. It has planted the seeds for future generations of greater economic inequality and the political and social instability it breeds. Student debt in the United States has risen above $1 trillion. As these indebted students work to pay off their debt, they will have less to spend to educate their own children.

Finally, while national leaders of both parties have watched our manufacturing base shrivel, the nation's fiscal house has collapsed. The gross national debt has risen from just about 55 percent of GDP in 2001 to over 103 percent of GDP in 2014. During this period, our nation has spent trillions of dollars on three wars (Afghanistan, Iraq, and Global Terror) that it has not paid for through any sort of fiscal sacrifice or discipline. The rest of the world has to look with bewilderment at America's lack of political will.

The American people should insist that the Congress reject TPA and reorder the nation's economic and fiscal agenda to promote growth, manufacturing, and debt reduction. This is the only way to be serious about standing up as an international or regional (Asian-Pacific) counterweight to the Chinese.