America, particularly its middle class and poor, has felt the decimating influence of macroeconomic forces that extend far beyond our local communities. In the face of powerful global and technological forces and trends, failures in global trade policy have aggravated wage stagnation, and left the long-term unemployed with shuttered factories.
Many have criticized U.S. free trade policy's regressive effect on parts of our labor market. Looking for a more favorable "business climate", American firms relocate to other countries and turn up the heat on their former workers. Finding it more profitable to do business in foreign countries that lack environmental and labor standards, their departures undermine former economic engines throughout the U.S. economy, leaving our communities suffering from job loss and downward wage pressure. Where does that leave our nation's poor, residing in our nation's urban centers, like Chicago's west side, where, a majority of neighborhood poverty rates exceed 34% and unemployment is approximately 20%? As we search for solutions, it's clear who bears the brunt of our inaction. There may be hope.
The Obama administration is charting a new course with the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade agreement between the United States and 11 other trading partners bordering the Pacific Rim. Living up to the President's campaign promise to rewrite NAFTA, TPP includes enforceable labor standards ensuring fair labor competition in the form of collective bargaining rights, bans against child and forced labor, minimum wage standards, and rules against discrimination. Forcing countries to adopt these new rules will reduce the incentive for companies to leave the U.S. in pursuit of lower labor standards and larger profits.
Just as they shouldn't seek to avoid fair labor rules, U.S. businesses shouldn't be able to move operations abroad to escape responsible environmental practices at home. TPP includes enforceable environmental provisions in opposition to harmful management practices relating to wildlife, sustainable fisheries, marine conservation, water pollution, ozone damaging substances, and energy efficiency.
TPP's goal to set higher standards aligns with our mission to prepare unemployed and underemployed populations on the Chicago's west side for job and business opportunities. As the U.S. gains access to new markets, global demand for U.S. goods and services increase. Collectively, TPP countries produce 40% of the world's total gross domestic product ($107.5 trillion), 26% of its trade, and 793 million of its consumers. These partners make up this fastest growing part of the world's marketplace. If the U.S. doesn't take the lead in determining standards in this region, China will. The last thing we need is to force small businesses on Chicago's west side to compete in the Asia-Pacific without fair rules. And that's the choice we now face.
TPP is a step in the right direction of addressing some of the evils of international trade. President Obama said,
"...we should have learned some lessons from NAFTA, and in fact that's what we've done, which is why now we have enforceable environmental provisions and enforceable labor provisions. What we can't do is think that somehow, if we draw a moat around this country, that we're going to be able to avoid globalization and technology, because frankly when you look at job loss and lost leverage, automation and technology has probably contributed more than trade has to that problem."
The west side of Chicago has learned lessons from NAFTA the hard way. The cost of inaction to right its wrongs are too great. I urge Congress to support TPP.