Congress Is Facing Its Last Call to Stand Up for Fair Trade

The moment has arrived. Worries about Congress allowing secret trade deals to be enacted with little oversight are no longer theoretical. Legislation that would allow agreements like the 12-nation Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) to slide unscathed through Capitol Hill has been introduced and will soon be considered by the Senate Finance Committee. And the consequences are dangerous for all Americans.

Advocates of fast track will tell you the trade-promotion vehicle is essential because it allows pacts like the TPP to clear Congress without being dissected by lawmakers. But when we have complicated agreements that could put thousands of U.S. workers on the unemployment line and hamper this nation's economy, shouldn't our elected officials have a chance to review and make changes to them? After all, lawmakers have certainly spent significant time considering more frivolous matters in recent years.

I've shared my views on fast track and the TPP numerous times over the past few years, and there is a reason for that: We don't know what we don't know. Despite overtures made by the administration to ease the viewing of trade deals by members of Congress, the move still leaves the public in the dark about a deal that could change their lives. That's not right.

The reach of the TPP, ratified under fast-track rules, will go far beyond the job market. In fact, it curbs democracy. From what we do know, it would allow unsafe food and products to be shipped to the U.S. and into our homes; curtail a more-than-80-year-old federal procurement program that gives American companies a leg up in government purchasing; and allow corporations to sue the U.S. and other nations that have laws on the books that they do not like.

It also would do nothing to halt the practice of currency manipulation, which drives up the cost of American products abroad and drives down the price for foreign goods sold here. The practice has taken a toll on the U.S. automobile industry, stifling sales of American vehicles overseas. Yet the TPP does not to stop it.

The U.S. already has proof that the TPP will harm this nation in another trade deal implemented just three years ago. The U.S.-Korea trade agreement, known as KORUS, is the model that the TPP is built upon. And here's what KORUS has gotten us: 85,000 lost American jobs and an 84-percent increase in this country's trade deficit with Korea. In fact, the U.S. rung up its highest monthly trade deficit ever with Korea in January, reaching $3 billion.

Unbalanced trade leads to more job loss. As the Economic Policy Institute recently surmised, increased trade deficits push jobs out of better-paying industries. And at a time when income inequality is running rampant in the U.S., workers don't need even more "free" trade agreements that will further strip this nation's economy of middle-income jobs. Enough is enough!

The Teamsters realize what is at stake with trade. That's why the union has been an active participant in helping shape policy as part of the process while at the same time pushing back against language that would hurt hardworking Americans. Our members and other fair-trade supporters have stood outside the U.S. trade representative's office and participated in bus tours and other demonstrations across the country to raise awareness about the problems of fast track and the TPP.

If these agreements are so good for America, they should be able to stand on their own. But they can't. Here's why: They're not fair to workers. They let big corporations ship jobs overseas and dump wages and benefits overboard along the way. They lead to lost jobs, shuttered plants and hollowed-out communities. And in return the vast majority of Americans only get unsafe goods and foods that make their families sick.

It's time the productivity of American workers showed up in their paychecks, and that means no more unfair trade deals. Now Congress needs to ensure that happens.