'Free' Trade Deals Bad For Rhode Island

Steven J. D'Amico, The Providence Journal Long before 2008, when Wall Street’s unchecked greed brought the world’s economy to its knees, we in the middle class could feel our future slipping away. We knew that we were working longer and harder — we could clearly see that even with two salaries, most families had less disposable income than families did in the 1960s and ’70s when one income was the norm. We knew that good jobs were harder to find and hold. And we knew that a big reason we were falling behind was a flawed trade policy that shipped many of our jobs abroad. Yet even after losing 682,000 jobs to the North American Free Trade Agreement, and 2.4 million to China, Washington continues in its blind faith that somehow these trade deals are good for us. This summer Congress is expected to take up three new trade deals — with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. These trade pacts, like those before them, are bad for American workers, bad for our domestic economy and bad for democracy. Let’s look at the impact on an industry important to Rhode Island — textiles. In recent years South Korea has carefully targeted $21 billion in government subsidies to capture a larger share of the technical textile industry, which supplies high-tech fibers for areas like health care and high-tech manufacturing. This is an industry still dominated by U.S. manufacturers like T.E.A.M., in Woonsocket, and Biomedical Structures, in Warwick. The trade deal would immediately remove tariffs for South Korean imports entering the U.S., but would gradually phase out tariffs on U.S. goods entering South Korea over many years. This will impose an immediate 15 percent competitive disadvantage for most American products. How many American jobs will be lost? The National Textile Association says 40,000 in textile-related industries alone. In all, says the Economic Policy Institute, the pending South Korea and Colombian trade deals are likely to cost us 214,000 jobs. The bad news doesn’t end there. Buried within the South Korean trade deal is a gift to the Wall Street tycoons who wrecked our economy. It prohibits either country from adopting limits on each other’s banks. Although the provisions don’t directly prohibit new controls over Wall Street, the effect is the same. Congress won’t restrain Goldman Sachs while its South Korean competitors run free. If Congress approves the South Korean trade deal, needed reforms, like those to limit the size of banks so they can’t be too big to fail, would be put out of reach — probably forever. These unfair trade deals undermine our democracy in other significant ways. They empower foreign corporations to haul us before a secret trade tribunal whenever they think a law or regulation makes it harder for them to do business here. These “investor state enforcement” provisions have been used to attack public-interest laws ranging from gambling regulation to groundwater protection. A recent World Trade Organization ruling means we might soon lose the right to know where our food comes from; the WTO ruled against our country-of-origin labeling law — asserting that it gave U.S. food producers an unfair advantage. If the ruling stands, you won’t know whether the scallops at your local market come from Georges Bank or a sewage pond in China. The Economic Policy Institute found that NAFTA took 2,100 jobs from families in Rhode Island and 17,000 jobs away from nearby Massachusetts; China trade took away another 10,600 jobs from Rhode Island and 72,000 from Massachusetts. The human wreckage wreaked by unfair international trade agreements is painfully clear to see in places like Fall River, a former textile city of 91,000 that has lost more than 15,000 manufacturing jobs over the last 20 years. Here, as in many Rhode Island communities, the unemployment rate has been at Depression-era levels long before the Wall Street meltdown. The Obama administration recently announced a bipartisan agreement among congressional leaders to move forward with the South Korea, Colombia and Panama trade deals. Unfortunately, Senators John Kerry (D.-Mass.) and Scott Brown (R.-Mass.) have strongly endorsed the pacts. This shouldn’t be the case with Rhode Island’s congressional delegation — they have consistently opposed similar trade pacts in the past. Now would be a good time to contact them and ask them to not only vote against these bad trade deals but to lead the fight, in the House and Senate, to stop them. Read original post here.