In his State of the Union address, President Obama laid bare a fundamental contradiction that may well define his presidency − and not for the better. In his speech, he strongly encouraged Congress to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a controversial “trade” deal between 12 Pacific-Rim nations that appears certain to undermine much of the President’s previous seven years of accomplishments in the areas of economic recovery, economic equality, health care access, climate change, and the rescue of the U.S. auto industry.
The TPP will affect up to 40 percent of the world’s trade, but it deals with much more than traditional trade issues – in many ways, it will increase the power of multinational corporations at the expense of democracy.
While President Obama touted the American jobs he has created since taking office, the TPP includes rules that will make it easier to offshore more American jobs to low wage countries − a recent economic study concluded that up to 450,000 American jobs could be lost. Since the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) went into effect in 1994, the U.S. has lost more than 57,000 manufacturing facilities, taking with them millions of well paying American middle class jobs. Connecticut has lost more than 100,000 manufacturing jobs – more than one out of three – since the 1994 NAFTA and the World Trade Organization agreements took effect. The TPP promises to continue this devastating trend.
A recent study found that the TPP would result in a pay cut for all but the richest 10 percent of U.S. workers − further exacerbating U.S. income inequality just as past trade deals have done. Study after study shows an academic consensus that the status quo trade model has contributed significantly to the historic rise in income inequality. Connecticut’s richest 10 percent now capture more than half of the state’s income and the state now has the highest income inequality gap in the nation (51 to 1 between the average wage of the top 1 percent vs the average wage of the bottom 99 percent) driven primarily by the loss of well-paying manufacturing jobs over the past few decades.
TPP rules could gut the important “Buy American” preferences that require government-purchased goods to be made in America. Other provisions of the TPP could increase U.S. health care costs by expanding monopoly patent protections for big pharmaceutical firms. New TPP rules could threaten the rebound of the U.S. auto industry by lowering the bar for what constitutes “Made in America.” Environmental standards could be rolled back under the TPP and our ability to follow through on the historic climate change commitments recently negotiated in Paris could be hampered. Financial reforms put in place in the wake of the financial meltdown could be threatened by TPP provisions allowing foreign banks to “sue” the U.S. government over new financial regulations. The Investor-State Dispute Settlement provisions of the TPP will newly empower thousands of foreign corporations to skirt our laws and courts and sue the U.S. government in foreign tribunals to demand taxpayer compensation over local, state and federal policies they claim undermine their TPP rights and the size of their profits.
The TPP would double down on NAFTA’s rules that were so detrimental to our economy. President Obama must choose between his agenda and its legacy or the TPP: he cannot have both.
I urge Connecticut’s entire Congressional delegation to vote “no” on the TPP and ask President Obama to go back to the drawing board and negotiate a fair trade deal for the American people − not a free trade deal for multinational corporations.
Doug Sutherland is the Chairman of the Fairfield County Chapter of Democracy for America and a member of the Connecticut Fair Trade Coalition.