Opinion: Job-Killing Korea Trade Pact Could Harm Bay Area's Ailing Economy

By Art Pulaski, Special to the Mercury News The U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement now heading to Congress could devastate California's high-tech jobs the way NAFTA demolished U.S. auto, electronics and textile employment in the 1990s. Even more alarming, Bay Area communities have the most jobs at risk under this deal. The electronics sector, which includes computer-related industries and solar equipment, is projected to be the biggest loser under the Korea deal, with significant losses also projected in other "jobs of the future," such as high-speed train manufacturing, according to the U.S. International Trade Commission. Historically the USITC has employed optimistic assumptions and rosy projections of trade pacts' gains, including NAFTA. But those gains didn't come to fruition. Since NAFTA, California has suffered a net loss of about 467,600 manufacturing jobs, with the bulk of those losses occurring well before the economic crisis. Yet this time, even the USITC warns us that the Korea deal will increase the overall U.S. trade deficit. And it found that particular industries would be hardest hit, with declines in production. We're already running a trade deficit with Korea in electronics. The USITC predicted that the Korea trade deal would make the deficit worse. Up to $790 million worse. A ballooning trade deficit would put thousands of Silicon Valley jobs at risk. In the Bay Area, there are more than 154,700 jobs in the sectors the USITC identified as losers. The deal even includes a new provision that would incentivize companies to offshore jobs. And with the California unemployment rate still hovering near 12 percent, the last thing we need is another job-killing trade deal that would sap even more jobs from our struggling economy. The agreement also includes a side deal to loosen U.S. visa policies for skilled Korean workers. These visas neither require companies to prove a shortage of domestic workers nor are companies required to pay prevailing U.S. wages, adding yet another threat for Silicon Valley workers. This deal even includes the extreme foreign investor rights that would empower the 270 Korean corporate affiliates now operating here to skirt U.S. courts and laws and demand compensation for California and national environmental, health and other policies that they claim undermine their expected profits. Californians in Congress have led the fight against this outrage in the past, after a series of state laws were attacked under similar rules in NAFTA. As with NAFTA, the usual corporate trade-deal boosters are touting the deal's benefits for their "sectors." But we've seen how trade deals that boost corporate profits can also wipe out millions of American jobs. Small business groups, unions, and environmental, consumer and family farm groups are urging Congress to vote no and send the deal for renegotiation so it benefits American workers. Opposition to NAFTA-style trade pacts is among the few issues that unites Americans from tea party to progressive, with self-identified independent voters among the most voracious opponents. But a powerful lobby of multinational corporations, eager to benefit from the pact's off-shoring protections, is lobbying heavily to pass it as is. In these times of high unemployment, America desperately needs job creation, not another job-killing NAFTA-style trade agreement. With this vote, each member of Congress will reveal whose side he or she is on. ART PULASKI is executive secretary-treasurer of the 2.1 million-member California Labor Federation. He wrote this for this newspaper. Read original post here.