‘Rethinking Free Trade’

A new round of negotiations on the extremely-flawed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a massive trade deal poised to kill more jobs than NAFTA, began November 19 in Salt Lake City, Utah. As the Obama administration’s top U.S. negotiators continue secret talks on the agreement, it’s worth taking a look back at a 2011 op-ed by then-former Maine governor Angus King published in Bowdoin College’s Daily Sun.

In “Rethinking Free Trade,” King, a lecturer at the college at the time, wrote:

Imagine the governor of one of our states going to the Congress and making the following argument:

“We are a small state that is struggling economically; we’re predominantly rural and would like to expand our manufacturing base. But it’s hard because we’re subject to those onerous federal environmental laws, which make building factories more expensive, as well as those pesky federal safety and wage and hour laws, which drive up the cost of labor.

“So we would appreciate it if you would exempt us from all those laws; then, we could attract jobs from the rest of the U.S. and sell our products for less than what they would cost to make in the other states. Consumers in the other states would get cheaper goods and we’d get lots of new jobs. And maybe, eventually, our economy will improve to the point where we can buy stuff from the other states as well. So how about it?”

Sound preposterous? Absolutely; the guy would be laughed out of Congress and not even get through the door at the White House. And yet, this is essentially what happens when we sign a free trade agreement with another country, especially one with minimal environmental and labor laws.

King goes on to successfully describe the detrimental effects of decades of bad U.S. trade deals and their subsequent hollowing out of the American economy from a candid viewpoint of the top political office in Maine. He calls for more aggressive policies on the price of admission into U.S. markets, real labor protections, real environmental protections and respect for intellectual property.

Sadly, not much has changed. In late 2011, the U.S. passed three seriously-flawed trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. And the TPP, the biggest one of them all, is currently being negotiated in complete secrecy with no congressional oversight and public input. Access to TPP draft language is limited almost exclusively to a handful of government negotiators and deep-pocketed corporate advisers. Recent leaks of chapters revealing extreme, troubling terms have sparked widespread concern.

Tell Congress we want fair trade, not free trade in the TPP by clicking here.