By Roger Johnson, president, National Farmers Union
The American public – rural and urban alike – need to be very leery of the rhetoric being used to sell upcoming trade deals and to insist that any agreement signed by this country has the primary goal of reducing the overall trade deficit.
Trade is neither inherently good nor is it inherently bad, and the string of deals that have been signed into law over the past decade, including the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the more recent Korean trade deal have failed to deliver prosperity and instead have exported good American jobs while growing the overall trade deficit.
Yes, many of these deals have benefitted family farmers and ranchers, as the U.S. has seen net agriculture exports top imports for years. But for the other side of the ledger – the rest of the economy, the picture hasn’t been so rosy. It has been a picture of millions of lost American jobs and growing trade deficits that will be inherited by our children.
Simply put, while rural America is on the good side of the ledger right now, don’t forget that the vast majority of what we grow is purchased American consumers. And when their jobs are all shipped overseas, who will be buying our products?
The trade deficit in 2014 increased to $505 billion, representing nearly 3 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product (GDP) and slowing growth for the overall economy. And what is Congress asking for? More trade.
Congress should deny the request of the president, and any president in the future, who asks for Trade Promotion Authority — also known as Fast Track. That’s because fast track allows the president to negotiate these agreements in secret and then present them to Congress for an up or down vote, with any and all amendments forbidden. Trade agreements that lack transparency should raise everyone’s eyebrows.
Several countries involved in the Transpacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations are known currency manipulators including Malaysia, Singapore and Japan. Recent reports noted that the U.S.-Japan trade deficit reached nearly $80 billion in 2013, and currency manipulation was the most significant cause of the deficit. The Economic Policy Institute estimates that this trade deficit with Japan resulted in 896,600 jobs eliminated in the U.S., in nearly every congressional district.
It’s time to take a new look at trade and make sure that each and every deal we sign is in our best interest. We must not enter into agreements that will subvert the jurisdiction of our important and hard fought domestic laws that protect workers, the environment and our children. Finally, we need to stop thinking of trade as if it were a club by which we can singlehandedly browbeat other nations into changing their behavior. That mindset didn’t prove too effective on Cuba, did it?