The popular fury over trade policies that have devastated American communities is rarely taken seriously by the political and media elites that keep trying to narrow the national political discourse into an endless loop of empty discussions about personalities and tactics. But trade is a huge issue on the ground in states where Americans actually vote.
The races for both the Republican and the Democratic presidential nominations have exposed the intensity of concern about the damage done by the North American Free Trade Agreement, normalization of trade relations with China and a host of lesser global agreements to workers in battleground states across the country. Indeed, the “surprise” results in Democratic primaries in states such as Michigan and Indiana can be traced in no small measure to a sense that the winner of those primaries, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, was firmer in his opposition to the next big trade deal: the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement.
Voters are justifiably angry about past trade deals, which were written to favor the interests of multinational corporations over those of workers, the environment, labor rights, human rights, and democracy.
And they are justifiably frightened by the prospect that the TPP could make things much worse.
The United States International Trade Commission has just released a long-awaited “report on what critics have decried as the NAFTA on steroids” proposal for a Pacific Rim trade deal. The report was expected to make a strong case for the agreement. Instead, it barely makes a case at all. So modest is the argument for the TPP that it was characterized by Politico as a “mildly positive” document with a “mixed” projection for how the TPP would influence the US trade deficit and the bad news that “the oil, coal, chemical, auto parts, forestry, leather and medical device industries could see slower growth than without the agreement.”
Lori Wallach, the director of Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch, points out that “This report spotlights how damaging the TPP would be for most Americans’ jobs and wages given it concludes 16 out of 25 US economic sectors…”