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Fast-tracking TPP would cost Oregon, nation even more jobs

pallesen-gregBy GREG PALLESEN

(Mar. 28, 2014) — There are lots of reasons to believe the secretive Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Free Trade Agreement will be bad for Oregon’s working families. Leaked texts raise concerns about everything from higher medicine costs to lower environmental protections. Still, for most Oregonians, there is one TPP concern that likely rises to the top: jobs.

The 20-year legacy of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and its ilk has been one of offshored jobs for our state and the nation. Prior to NAFTA, in 1993, the United States had a $2.5 billion trade surplus with Mexico in 1993 and a deficit of under $30 billion with Canada. By 2013, our combined deficit with those two nations had exploded to $177 billion — more than a six-fold increase.

Just like exports can create jobs, ballooning deficits can destroy them. Since NAFTA took effect on January 1, 1994, the U.S. Labor Department has certified 58,779 Oregon livelihoods as lost to either direct offshoring or displacement by imports. That’s a figure that primarily only includes displaced manufacturing jobs, by the way. There’s evidence to suggest a similar number of Oregon service sector jobs, in fields like computer programming and call centers, have also been shipped overseas.

The proposed 12-nation TPP would dwarf NAFTA in terms of its geographic and economic scope. Among the countries currently at the negotiating table, the TPP would set rules governing approximately 40% of the planet’s Gross Domestic Product, and the pact is explicitly being negotiated as what’s called a “docking agreement” so that it can expand even further over time.

President Obama’s top trade official, former Citibank executive Michael Froman, recently complained that, “From the start of this administration, we have made clear that we need to understand the history of trade policy and learn the lessons of that history. However, some of the criticisms I hear of our agenda don’t seem to recognize that this is 2014, not 1994.”

Unfortunately, one does not have to go all the way back to NAFTA’s implementation to experience a job-killing trade agreement. President Obama’s biggest trade deal to date — the Korea Free Trade Agreement — just reached its two-year anniversary on March 15, and its impact on Oregon jobs has been similarly devastating.

Much as with the TPP, the White House and other boosters claimed that the Korea Free Trade Agreement would expand U.S. exports and create American jobs. The reality has been just the opposite.

U.S. International Trade Commission data shows that the United States’ monthly trade deficit with South Korea has increased 49% under the pact. The Economic Policy Institute estimated that the increase in imports and decrease in exports under the Korea Free Trade Agreement cost the United States about 40,000 jobs in the first year alone.

In Oregon, our overall exports to South Korea were down 11% in the year after the Korea pact’s implementation compared to the year before it — and if you add the increase in Korean imports to the equation, Oregon’s net exports were down a whopping 420%.

Numerous industries critical to Oregon’s 5th Congressional district have taken a hit. Government data accrued nationally shows that agricultural product exports are down an average of 41% per month under the Korea Free Trade Agreement; computer and electronic product exports are down 12%; and paper exports are down 6%.

Countries within the TPP, such as Vietnam, are already being promoted as low-cost labor alternatives to China. Slight adjustments to the Korea trade model aren’t going to be enough to protect human rights abroad or jobs here at home — and all indications are that the Obama administration is having a hard time even achieving Korea-level standards on things like labor and the environment within the TPP.

Of course, we don’t know for certain, because while the Obama administration has shared draft TPP texts with hundreds of corporate advisors representing companies like Walmart and Cargill and Chevron, it still refuses to tell the American people what it has been proposing in our names.

The White House and various corporate lobby groups are now pushing Congress to approve new “Fast Track” legislation, which would legally enable TPP negotiators to keep their proposals hidden from public scrutiny until after the negotiations have concluded, the pact is signed and amendments are prohibited. Hopefully, Congressman Kurt Schrader and the rest of Oregon’s Congressional delegation will recognize the folly of that proposal.

Greg Pallesen is Vice President of the Association of Western Pulp and Paper Workers. This column, which appeared at, is crossposted here with the author’s permission.

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