WASHINGTON - In the coming months, Congress will likely face a vote on the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a massive trade deal covering 12 countries and 40 percent of global trade. It’s the largest trade deal the United States has ever negotiated, and would have an enormous effect on workers in every corner of the country.
And as members of Congress consider whether to support the deal, I encourage them to take a look at what’s happened to families and communities on the Iron Range in recent years, where unfair trade practices put American workers out of jobs.
As a result of a tilted global playing field, over the last year, operations have been idled at mines like United Taconite and Keetac, and at the Magnetation and Mesabi Nugget plants - putting more than 2,000 people out of work.
Minnesota’s iron ore and steel producers can compete with anyone in the world when there’s a level playing field. But with unfair trade practices, they face layoffs, business closings and the loss of opportunity. It’s clear that we need a new approach to trade.
Unfortunately, the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by the Barack Obama administration isn’t it.
More than three years ago, as the United States began to ramp up negotiations of that deal, I led a bipartisan letter to the president laying out some basic principles that should be in the agreement to make it a fair deal for American workers.
Things like basic protection for workers, strong rules against currency manipulation and a fair process through which we can hold other governments accountable for unfair trade. I laid out these principles because I know how unfair trade practices can negatively affect many of our industries, including the iron and steel industry that is so crucial to the wellbeing of the Range.
The TPP agreement signed earlier this year falls woefully short of those standards, and I hope others in Congress will join me in voting against this deal.
For too long, we’ve seen the damage from bad trade agreements. Flawed agreements like NAFTA pushed as many as one million American jobs overseas. That’s why when we consider something as large as the TPP, those of us representing American workers in Congress should be looking out for American workers - and not just the corporate bottom line.
Doesn’t provide basic worker protections
We know when workers can bargain together, everybody benefits. That’s why our trade agreements should include enforceable protections for fundamental labor rights in all countries, and that’s what I called for in the TPP.
For example, the TPP doesn’t include any plan to improve conditions for workers in Mexico, one of the 12 countries involved in the deal, where the average wage is just $2.43 an hour.
That means employers in Mexico can undercut fairer American wages. And the TPP doesn’t address the many corrupt, employer-dominated Mexican labor unions that help employers, not workers. Plus, in other TPP countries that have agreed to give workers better conditions, there aren’t guarantees that any of their promises will be enforced.
Fails to crack down on currency manipulation
Even when other countries provide better working conditions, American workers will continue to suffer if we let our trading partners use currency manipulation to gain an unfair advantage.
According to the Peterson Institute for International Economics, currency manipulation across the globe has cost the United States up to 5 million jobs. That’s why I called for strong, enforceable protections against currency manipulation in the TPP.
Unfortunately, despite our efforts, U.S. trade negotiators failed to seek any meaningful protections against currency manipulation, and we’ve missed a critical opportunity to put a stop to decades of this unfair practice by our trading partners.
In fact, even if the rest of the TPP were a good deal for American workers, failing to address currency manipulation means any benefits could be completely wiped out if Japan or other trading partners resume their longstanding practices of manipulating their currency.
Gives foreign investors advantages to challenge U.S. laws
I don’t think foreign governments should be allowed to use currency manipulation to support their own industries, but TPP also gives foreign competitors another benefit that allows them to circumvent the traditional court system: investor-state dispute settlement (ISDS).
Under the ISDS process, foreign companies can bypass the court system and challenge U.S. laws before an international arbitration panel made up arbitrators who may represent corporations in other cases, presenting a significant conflict of interest. While the TPP acknowledges these obvious conflicts of interest, it includes few concrete steps to remedy them.
Minnesota workers deserve a better deal than the TPP.
The right kind of trade deal can help expand markets for U.S. products, create more jobs here at home, and strengthen relationships with our allies overseas.
But too often in the last few decades, bad deals like NAFTA have shipped U.S. jobs overseas, and we can’t afford another one.
That’s why I’ll be opposing the TPP.
Al Franken is the Democratic junior U.S. senator from Minnesota.