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Put American workers at the table in trade deals and keep them off the menu

By Tim Burga

As Congress begins debate on whether to give President Obama unilateral authority to negotiate a new round of international trade agreements (“Fast Track” Trade Promotion Authority), Ohioans would be well served to look at the catastrophic results of recent such arrangements. Between 2000 and 2014, American manufacturing employment dropped by 4 million jobs.  Fast Track authority and flawed trade agreements like the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), along with the inclusion of China in Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR), have blown up our import/export deficit and have led to the loss of over 300,000 Ohio manufacturing jobs and numerous additional losses in feeder and supply related work.

Fast Track circumvents Congressional oversight, limits transparency and has resulted in trade agreements that have benefitted global corporations at the expense of workers and their families.  Fast Track needs to be replaced with a new process for negotiating and approving trade agreements that increases Congressional and public oversight so that we can harvest the benefits of expanded trade without undermining the basic tenants of American democracy.

America’s working families cannot afford more flawed trade agreements that hollow out our industrial base, drive down wages, increase inequality, and add to our unsustainable trade deficit.  Congress should reject any legislation that allows trade negotiations to be done in secret which prevent federal, state and local elected officials or the public from being able to meaningfully participate in trade policy making.   Our most recent trade negotiating practices have hurt our economy in profound ways and we simply cannot afford to keep making those same mistakes.

America’s workers understand that global trade is a necessary part of economic growth. They also understand that the evidence is overwhelming that a new U.S. trade model is desperately needed- a new “gold standard” model that prioritizes raising wages and shared prosperity for workers.  ”Buy American” should be much more than just a slogan- it should be the centerpiece of every decision that Congress and the President make.

Burga is President of the Ohio AFL-CIO.

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