There’s an old cliché that the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again, and expecting different results.
Well, if that’s the case, then our trade policy represents insanity. Though NAFTA was signed nearly two decades ago, a trade deal with China was inked about a dozen years ago, and CAFTA was signed some seven years ago, we still haven’t seen any change.
The time for a new direction in trade policy is overdue. For decades, we’ve seen our trade deals undermine good-paying American manufacturing jobs. We’ve lost more than five million jobs to our so-called “trading partners,” and new export opportunities have not been enough to offset the jobs lost. So, as the United States begins negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), we must take a new approach to trade policy.
But instead, the TPP – as it currently stands – is nothing more than a case of déjà vu all over again. This proposal would take the NAFTA model and create one of the largest free trade zones in the world with the U.S., Mexico, Canada, Australia, Brunei, Chile, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam as the initial members. And just when the American auto industry is making a strong recovery, Japan—a nation that has notoriously closed off its market to U.S. auto markets—is seeking to join the TPP.
It’s time for an honest assessment of what our trade agreements have yielded, and it’s time to recognize where changes are in order.
The TPP is an opportunity to learn from the past. And that means demanding that our trade partners uphold the same labor, environmental, and human rights standards that we do. This means that Ohio workers – be they employees at auto companies or small manufacturers – have a chance to compete on a level playing field.
But as we’ve seen with past trade agreements, U.S. negotiators are not demanding that American manufacturers receive the same ability to sell their products abroad as countries like China and South Korea have in our nation.
We need trade, and we need more of it. I’m committed to doubling our exports by 2015. But what we don’t need is to rush head-long into new trade agreements without protecting our own interests, gaining real market access in foreign countries – especially for autos and manufactured goods – and getting the rules right.
Americans know that when it comes to new trade deals, the choices are not limited to free trade or protectionism.
And at a time when too many Ohioans are still looking for work, we cannot sign a lopsided trade agreement that tips the balance against American automakers and workers.
In a trade partnership, everyone should play by the same rules. And so when these rules are being established, the negotiations matter. Congress has a role to play, especially when trade agreements increasingly get involved debates about such as the provisions services, government procurement, worker conditions, and the environment.
That’s why I introduced the 21st Century Trade and Market Access Act.
This bill would require that the President submit reports to Congress detailing which countries are on track to meet the deadlines and commitments that we’ve agreed upon. We need to know if progress is being made and if our partners are playing by the rules.
Again, the TPP is a tremendous opportunity to get trade right. The President must have the authority to negotiate new and better trade deals, but first Congress needs to set the direction so that we can ensure that trade is free and fair.
We should be exporting American products, not American jobs.
Sherrod Brown is a United States Senator from Ohio.