By Laurent F. Gilbert Sr.
Mayor of Lewiston
Why is it that when we enter into Free Trade Agreements, we as a country, place ourselves at a disadvantage for American workers? Hasn’t the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) provided a lesson for us as a country?
The free trade agreements (FTAs) with Korea, Columbia and Panama were negotiated by the Bush Administration and after some adjustments are now being proposed by President Obama for passage by Congress. These three FTAs, according to AFL-CIO President Richard Trumka are similar to NAFTA, which has cost almost 700,000 jobs and created a $97 billion U.S. trade deficit with Mexico. He called it “a miserable failure for working people.”
Although I believe that President Obama’s jobs bill is not large enough, at least it is a step in the right direction that will help with infrastructure investment and help local economies, that which is so desperately needed. This is the type of job creation that we need and to not pass agreements that send American jobs overseas and leave our communities behind.
According to a source from the Maine Fair Trade organization, what we have experienced as we have signed new trade agreements is a devastation of our manufacturing sector, more outsourcing of service-sector jobs and a growing trade deficit that leaves us more and more in debt to the rest of the world. Haven’t we learned our lesson?
Let’s take a look at the three FTAs and look at its negative impact on American workers.
The Korean Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). FTA is similar in size to NAFTA. According to the Economic Policy Institute, it estimates that KORUS FTA would displace some 159,000 net U.S. jobs mostly in manufacturing. Haven’t we seen what the loss of manufacturing jobs has done to Lewiston-Auburn when those jobs were sent overseas?
In 2010, the United States had a goods trade deficit with Korea of more than $10 billion. The imbalance was mostly in advance technology products and in the auto industry.
Aside from the trade imbalance, is the treatment of Korean workers who are fired when attempting to form unions. Why aren’t we including their workers right to form unions to strike a balance with our worker’s rights here in the U.S.? We should never enter into agreements with countries who abuse their workers under the manufacturer’s fists.
According to some trade experts who have studied the deal and its loopholes could open the doors for goods made in China or even sweatshops in North Korea, but labeled in South Korea.
The U.S.-Columbia Free Trade Agreement (FTA). According to international studies, Columbia is the most dangerous place in the world for trade unionists. In 2010, 51 trade unionists were assassinated in Columbia, an increase over the previous year and more than in the rest of the world combined. Another 22 have been killed so far this year. If these numbers were for chief executive officers, would we be entering in trade agreements with countries that had such figures for CEO’s? I think not! Then why do we want to deal with such countries unless they agree to have their countries be on par with us. Isn’t that just simply fair?
The Panama Free Trade Agreement isn’t so much about a job deficit, but a poor history of failing to protect workers and enforce labor rights. Panama is known as a haven with a history of attracting money launderers and tax dodgers.
In an article entitled “Trading our future: Tax cheating and the Panama Free Trade Agreement,” MSNBC’s Dylan Ratigan writes: “If you want to know why politicians are so eager to pass a free trade agreement with Panama this month, type ‘Panama offshore banks’ into Google and look at the paid ads. What you’ll see is advertising by law firms and banks that will offer you help to set up a secret corporate structure in Panama immune from taxes.”
Ratigan goes on to state: “The State Department knows this. Here’s how the State Department described the Panamanian economy in 2006 in a secret memo revealed on Wikileaks. The Panamanian ‘incorporation regime ensures secrecy, avoids taxes, and shields assets from the enforcement of legal judgments. Along with its sophisticated banking services, Panama remains an environment conducive to laundering the proceeds from criminal activity and creates a vulnerability to terrorist financing’.”
According to the AFL-CIO, corporations are sitting on $2 trillion in cash and not creating jobs while waiting for these three trade agreements to bet ratified by congress. Some of the 32 corporations backing the campaign have shipped a combined 18,600 U.S. jobs overseas since 2001.
The Public Citizen database reports that in one case, Whirlpool took advantage of NAFTA and shipped more than 1,000 jobs from its Fort Smith, Arkansas facility to Mexico in 2008. What did that do to the people of Fort Smith and its community’s economy? We here in L-A should know well what this does to American workers and their community.
Caterpillar, a major backer of the Columbia Free Trade Agreement, laid off 338 workers at its Mapleton, Ill., facility when they shifted work to Mexico. The question in the previous paragraph is repeated over and over in various communities across America; with the passage of these trade agreements, similar stories will continue.
It has been reported that General Electric is planning to move its 115-year-old x-ray division from Waukesha, Wisconsin to Beijing. It is also reported that in addition to moving the headquarters there, the company will invest $2 billion in China and train more than 65 engineers and create six research centers. This is the same GE that made $5.1 billion in the United States last year, but paid no taxes. This is the same company that employs more people overseas than it does in the United States.
A September 2010 NBS-Wall Street Journal poll found that the impact of trade and outsourcing is one of the only issues in which Americans of different classes, occupations and political persuasions agree. Eighty-six percent said outsourcing of jobs by U.S. companies to low-wage foreign nations is a top cause of our economic woes—by far the top concern, with deficits and health care costs well behind.
Nearly 60 percent of Republicans at all educational levels believe offshoring plays a “major role” in current unemployment, according to May 2011 poll by the National Journal.
Ratigan went on to write in his July 19, 2011 column: “The key question we have to face as a country is how we want to govern ourselves. From World War II until NAFTA, our trading policies were based on geopolitical needs and what would increase prosperity for America. Since NAFTA, however, the mantra of free trade has been warped to generate rights for international capital and nothing else. The agreements Congress and the President are pushing continue this unfortunate trend. What unfettered capital wants is to avoid taxes, regulations, or any state power whatsoever. And that’s what this Panama deal is really about.”
So here we are a year away from the 2012 elections and we will see millions of dollars from the corporations that will profit from these trade agreements and who will contribute to campaigns on both sides of the aisle. I predict that all three trade agreements will pass Congress and will be signed by the President prior to the election.
Once again, the corporate giants will win at the cost of American workers, not free and not fair. Isn’t capitalism great?
See Mayor Gilbert’s personal blog at www.MayorLarryGilbert.com.