Keeping score for U.S. trade

Opinion: Letters To The Editor

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It seems illogical and unfair to be against the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) without knowing what is actually in the agreement, which nobody yet does. Likewise, as a matter of practical trade negotiations, it can seem mindlessly obstructionist to deny President Obama and his trade negotiators Fast Track Authority — through which they would have the power to negotiate a trade agreement which would then be voted up or down by the U.S. Congress with no opportunity for amendment. But as long as TPP advocates present current negotiations as based on the success of past trade deals, blind opposition is clearly justified.

Advocates of TPP routinely see it as being modeled on NAFTA and other trade deals based on similar frameworks. They praise NAFTA, as Bloomberg Businessweek did recently, as "generally considered a success" and credit it with creating "hundreds of thousands of U.S. jobs." As long as TPP advocates score U.S. trade policy this way, we need to oppose any future trade deals they might negotiate.

It is true that we have increased our exports of goods to Mexico five-fold since NAFTA passed in 1993, and thus, in the first instance, U.S. jobs were created. But it is also true that our imports from Mexico have increased more than eight-fold, turning a small trade surplus with Mexico into a large trade deficit — and thus resulting in a net loss of U.S. jobs. You can't count the jobs gained through increased exports without subtracting the jobs lost to imports, but this is exactly what TPP advocates do. It's like celebrating the fact that the Bears scored 30 points without mentioning that the Packers scored 120!

 A similar picture emerges when we look at trade balances with China since it was admitted to the World Trade Organization in 2001 — greatly increased trade with China, but with imports vastly outstripping exports, ballooning trade deficits, and nearly 3 million U.S. jobs lost (mostly in manufacturing) in the decade from 2001 to 2011. 

We currently have a trade deficit with all countries of nearly $500 billion, a seven-fold increase since NAFTA was passed. These deficits are an enormous drag on our economy, killing millions of U.S. jobs, putting downward pressure on wages and salaries, and undermining our capacity for economic growth now and in the future. This is not a successful trade policy.

Designing a trade policy that will both increase global trade and substantially reduce our trade deficit is not easy (though it definitely includes a cheaper dollar). But until the President and his trade negotiators learn how to keep score and focus on how to move toward a rough balance of trade, they do not deserve to be taken seriously — let alone be given a fast track to repeat the mistakes of the past. 

Vote to make Oak Park a "TPP-Free Zone" in this November's election. 

Jack Metzgar, an Oak Park resident, is emeritus professor at Roosevelt University and author of "Striking Steel: Solidarity Remembered."

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