Trans-Pacific Partnership: What’s in it for Black Workers?

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Editorial

By Frederick H. Lowe

The United States Senate has given President Barack Obama a green light to go ahead with the Trade Priorities and

Black men have lost thousands of good paying manufacturing jobs because of  international trade deals. Photo by Think Stock.

Black men have lost thousands of good paying manufacturing jobs because of international trade deals. Photo by Think Stock.

Accountability Act of 2015 (TPA), which is the right to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a secret trade deal between the United States and 11 other nations.

Now it is up to the U.S. House of Representatives to vote on TPA. In the House, President Obama will face a much tougher time.

If the House supports President Obama’s TPA, he will have fast track authority to get the deal done.

A vote is expected this week and black men should be very concerned because previous trade agreements have wreaked financial havoc in the African-American community.

“It’s difficult to estimate the jobs impact of the TPP, given we have not seen a complete draft of the final text, but based on prior experience, we can expect growing trade deficits and job losses—similar to those after NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement) and KORUS (U.S.-Korean Free Trade Agreement),” said Robert Scott, director of Trade and Manufacturing Policy Research at the Economic Policy Institute.

As African-American men we should demand to know the terms of TPP because previous trade agreements starting with the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement between the U.S., Mexico and Canada, which was negotiated under Bill Clinton, has resulted in the loss of hundreds of thousands of high-paying manufacturing jobs as companies moved their operations to Mexico. This move led to lower wages, according to the Economic Policy Institute, a Washington D.C.-based think tank.

President Clinton, for example, claimed NAFTA would lead to an export boom from Mexico, creating 200,000 jobs in two years and millions of jobs in five years.  But 20 years later, trade deficits with Mexico eliminated 682,000 good jobs in the U.S., and 61 percent were in manufacturing, Scott wrote in 2013 paper titled “NAFTA’s Legacy: Growing U.S. Trade Deficits Cost 682,000 jobs.”

And that’s just for openers.

When China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001, it cost black workers 281,100 high-paying manufacturing jobs from 2001 to 2011, said Scott, author of the 2013 research paper, “Trading away manufacturing advantage: China trade drives down U.S. wages and benefits and eliminates good jobs for U.S. workers.”

Scott estimated that African Americans made up 25% of minorities displaced by trade with China, suffering wage losses in excess of $2.5 billion.

And KORUS, U.S.-Korean Free Trade Agreement, has resulted in the net loss of 75,000 jobs for African-American and other workers. U.S. imports from Korea surged to more than $12 billion while U.S. exports to Korea increased by less than $1 billion, Scott said.

The job loss is staggering.

I see this everyday in Chicago where I live. Black men stand on street corners holding plastic cup begging for donations. My wife, Susan, and I recently picked up boxes from a U-Haul store. The store’s employees were all Hispanic and white. Across the street from the store, unemployed black men called out to us, saying they could help us move. We built this country and now we are reduced to begging.

President Obama is pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Previous trade agreements have hurt black workers. Getty Images

President Obama is pushing the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Previous trade agreements have hurt black workers. Getty Images

President Obama claims TPP will be different, but other presidents have made the same claims about previous trade agreements, U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D., Mass.), wrote in a 15-page booklet “Broken Promises: Decades of Failure to Enforce Labor Standards in Free Trade Agreements.”

This is not a time for black men to do nothing. We’re not mushrooms to be kept in the dark. We need to get on the telephone with our Congressman’s or Congresswoman’s office and learn where they stand on this crucial issue.

We have a lot on our plate. Cops shooting and killing unarmed black men and black women is clearly one of the most important, but the trade deal should be a priority also. One way or another, our survival is at stake.

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