With the White House potentially on the verge of "fast-tracking" the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a measure expected to lower or eliminate trade barriers between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations, U.S. labor unions are once again voicing reservations, selfishly fighting to keep costs on imports high for all Americans.
American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO) President Richard Trumka says the proposal is flawed and will promote "wealth for the 1%, with poverty for the rest of us," while Teamsters President James Hoffa says the TPP will allow American corporations to offshore more manufacturing jobs.
The TPP talks have been ongoing for years. They were supposed to wrap up in 2012 and then 2014, but opponents have repeatedly delayed their completion—though a finish line may be in sight given the new Republican-controlled Congress.
These TPP talks come two decades after unions fought against the implementation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which opened up trade restrictions between the U.S., Canada, and Mexico in 1994. Former presidential candidate and staunch protectionism proponent Ross Perot once declared that NAFTA would create "a giant sucking sound" of jobs leaving the U.S. for Mexico. More recently, the liberal magazine The Nation called the TPP a "massive assault on democracy" and "NAFTA on steroids."
President Obama supports the TPP, which will include nations that account for 38 percent of total world economic activity, although The Washington Post notes that the support is largely an attempt at tactical maneuvering around China:
The Obama administration's focus on the TPP is part of its "pivot" to Asia — former national security adviser Tom Donilon called it the "centerpiece of our economic rebalancing" and a "platform for regional economic integration" — after too many years of American foreign policy being bogged down in the Middle East. Scholars such as Columbia University's Jagdish Bhagwati are worried that the TPP goes further, as an effort to "contain" China and provide an economic counterweight to it in the region. Many of the TPP's current provisions are designed to exclude China, like those requiring yarn in clothing to come from countries party to the agreement, and could possibly invite retaliation. In addition, 60 senators have asked for the final agreement to address currency manipulation, which wouldn't directly affect China as a non-member, but could create a framework for broader action.
The president will likely face staunch opposition from within his own party. He acknowledged last month that congressional Democrats have "legitimate complaints" and that the issue "makes for some tough politics." But allowing companies and individuals to freely trade goods and services is not an "assault on democracy." Such free trade agreements have long been supported by economists as a means of increasing overall welfare, and rightly so.