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“TPP: NAFTA Deja Vu

In many ways, kids are much smarter than adults. Take trade agreements for example. In my old neighborhood, kids frequently traded all sorts of things with one another, but we always knew what a “fair” trade was. Back then you could swap a Mickey Mantle baseball card for a Willie Mays, or a Superman comic book for a Batman. But you would never trade your bicycle for a bag of marbles. Why? Because that would be stupid, that’s why. No one in his right mind would give up something of great value for something of little value. So why, then, do adults, particularly those who work in Washington, D.C., keep engaging in bad trades? Are they stupid, or do they just have selective amnesia? Or is it something else?

Just over 20 years ago, Bill Clinton, with support from both parties, passed the North American Free Trade Agreement. Clinton promised us that the free trade pact would create one million new jobs within five years. Only a select few souls spoke in opposition, most notably Ross Perot who warned that NAFTA would suck jobs out of our country, and start us down a disastrous economic road. Turns out he was right and Mr. Clinton was wrong.

Last year, in recognition of NAFTA’s 20th anniversary, a number of organizations, politicians, and media outlets offered up progress reports and analysis of the one-sided trade pact. Public Citizens Global Trade Watch, for example, reported that America had lost one million jobs because of NAFTA (about 400,000 of those were in manufacturing), and income inequality grew by obscene proportions. Meanwhile, former Michigan Congressman David Bonior noted that in 1993, America enjoyed a $2.5 billion trade surplus, but by mid 2014 we had a $181 billion trade deficit. That means our trade deficit increased by 450% since NAFTA went into effect. Under NAFTA, U.S. companies shuttered plants at an alarming rate and re-opened them in under developed countries where they paid slave wages to produce much cheaper products. Those goods were then shipped back into America virtually tariff-free. At the same time, countries like China were shipping products to our ports without having met safety and environmental standards. And NAFTA had a negative impact on another kind of import. According to the Economic Policy Institute, NAFTA caused Mexican workers to flee their homeland in search of better employment and higher pay. The result was several million Mexicans immigrating to America, most of who were undocumented.

In 2008, candidate Barack Obama understood what NAFTA was doing to our economy and vowed to re-negotiate the pact if he became President.

Yet just one month into his Presidency, Mr. Obama’s short-term memory loss set in as he told the Washington Post that any re-negotiation “would have to wait.” Now, seven years later, the President’s amnesia has grown worse because he is using all of his executive powers to push through yet another disastrous trade agreement, the Trans Pacific Partnership, which may involve as many as a dozen nations throughout the Asia-Pacific region. Even worse, negotiations for TPP have taken place largely in private.

According to a New York Times article from February, 2014, Senator Bernie Sanders wrote a letter to U.S. Trade representative Michael Froman, in which he said, “It is incomprehensible to me that the leaders of major corporate interests who stand to gain enormous financial benefits from this agreement are actively involved in the writing of TPP, while at the same time, the elected officials of this country representing the American people, have little or no knowledge as to what’s in it”.

Sanders wasn’t alone in his concerns. Quoting Rep. Brian Higgins, Kevin Jolly of the Buffalo News wrote, “The lack of transparency is disturbing. Why do they want to fast track this thing without any Congressional debate or amendments?” But just over a year ago, we learned why there was a lack of transparency. That’s when some of the details of TPP began to leak out, including provisions for companies to get around U.S. laws and environmental standards.

Speaking on “The Ed Show” last year, former U.S. Labor Secretary Robert Reich commented that, “TPP is a Trojan Horse in a global race to the bottom, giving big corporations and Wall Street banks a way to eliminate any and all laws and regulations that get in the way of their profits.” He went even further in a video that he released back on January 29, in which he said that TPP will also allow for international tribunals that can require corporations be paid “compensation for any lost profits found to result from a nation’s regulations.”

Economist Joseph Stiglitz was more blunt, telling the New York Times, “TPP presents grave risks…and serves the interests of the wealthiest.” Bernie Sanders concurred, and with a nod to NAFTA said, “Trade agreements like TPP have ended up devastating working families and enriching large corporations. ” Perhaps Mr.Obama isn’t suffering from memory loss after all. Perhaps he is compelled to push for TPP because of pressure from corporate interests who helped put him in office. But no matter the reason, TPP is dangerous and should not be enacted, at least not without full bi-partisan discourse and disclosure. America simply can’t afford to sign any more one-sided trade pacts. We must demand fair trades, like swapping a Mickey Mantle card for a Willie Mays. Anyone who thinks otherwise has lost his marbles. !

JIM LONGWORTH is the host of “Triad Today,” airing on Saturdays at 7:30 a.m. on ABC45 (cable channel 7) and Sundays at 11 a.m. on WMYV (cable channel 15).

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