Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader (D-5th District) told labor leaders at an April 26 breakfast that he is “leaning strongly in favor” of the Korea Free Trade Agreement and is unlikely to support the Trade Reform, Accountability, Development and Employment (TRADE) Act. He still is undecided on trade deals with Colombia and Panama.
His positions run counter to the AFL-CIO, which opposes all of the free trade agreements and supports the TRADE Act to create a fairer and more balanced trade policy.
The Korea pact is the largest trade deal of its type since NAFTA. It could be voted on this summer.
Schrader maintains a trade deal with Korea will boost Oregon’s exports and create jobs for the state, which is strategically located on the Pacific Rim. He believes that U.S. consumers learned a lesson from the Great Recession and will no longer consume more than they earn.
“So if we want to get our economy back and put you guys back to work, we’ve got to have you making stuff for people who are going to buy it,” he said. “And if the American consumer is only going to buy X — and that’s way below where we’re going to get full employment — I want to sell stuff to Korea. I want to sell it to England, I want to sell it to other countries.”
As for the TRADE Act, Schrader described it as “too dictatorial” and “very, very, very, very prescriptive.”
He said portions of the Act — those covering labor standards, environmental regulations, and investment provisions — are reasonable and enforceable, but other elements are too specific.
“Let’s put it this way,” he explained, “if a foreign country came to me with the TRADE Act, I’d say ‘go to hell.’ It would basically be giving away my sovereignty.”
Schrader asserts that proponents of the TRADE Act don’t really expect it to pass. “They’re interested in making sure that these so-called ‘free trade’ agreements become ‘fair trade’ agreements,” he said.
Contacted by the Labor Press, Arthur Stamoulis, director of the union-backed Oregon Fair Trade Campaign, pointed to a report by the International Trade Commission (ITC) that projects the Korea FTA will increase the overall U.S. trade deficit, resulting in net job losses. In addition, the study suggests that good-paying industries like autos, electronics and other manufacturing are among those that will be hit the hardest.
“Not only will we be losing more jobs than created, but the jobs lost pay more,” Stamoulis said.
The labor-supported Economic Policy Institute goes even further, predicting that the Korea FTA will double the U.S. trade deficit with South Korea within seven years, with Korean imports displacing approximately 888,000 American jobs — and the FTA alone responsible for a net 159,000 jobs.
Stamoulis also told the Labor Press that the TRADE Act’s strong labor provisions “are absolutely not part of the Korea FTA, nor any other existing or pending trade agreement.” He said the Korea FTA includes weak labor provisions inserted by the Bush Administration and that the actual text of the Korea agreement’s investment provisions provides foreign investors the right to challenge U.S. laws, regulations and even court decisions as “regulatory takings” through international arbitration processes that completely circumvent the U.S. judicial system.
“This is clearly a right that U.S. businesses and U.S. citizens do not have,” Stamoulis said.
On other issues discussed at the breakfast, sponsored by the Northwest Oregon Labor Council:
- Schrader said since Republicans took control of the U.S. House in 2011 they have not submitted a single jobs bill. “They’re not even talking about jobs on the House side,” he said. “Republicans have not offered any jobs bills, nothing that references jobs, nothing that even makes an attempt to put working men and women back to work.”
- On reducing the federal deficit: Schrader said he will fight to make sure funding for jobs programs, infrastructure, education, and research aren’t impacted.
- On Social Security: “Social Security is in trouble. It’s going to go broke in about 20 years. Either that or everyone will have to take an automatic 25 percent cut in benefits. We’ve got to do something about that.”
- On Rep. Paul Ryan’s budget proposal: “While I disagreed violently with Congressman Ryan’s particulars in his budget … I do appreciate the fact that he’s talking about the big picture. We have big problems in this country. A foreign country owns most of our debt at this point in time. We’re in probably the worst deficit situation this country’s been in since World War II. We’ve got to get that fixed. But there’s a smart way to go about it and there’s a dumb way to go about it.”