Democrat & Chronicle: Fair and free trade topic of talk

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International trade is not a sexy public policy issue.

Aside from labor unions, who for years have been beating the drum for better trade deals, recent Republican and Democratic administrations in Washington have been gung ho for signing deals around the globe.

[by Matthew Daneman | April 8, 2015 | Democrat & Chronicle]

But a pair of major trade developments being worked on now may change that. Legislation could be introduced in Congress as soon as next week to give fast track negotiating authority to the White House so it can negotiate treaties that Congress could only up or down, with no amendments. The United States also continues to hammer out details on the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade agreement, a sort of NAFTA for various Pacific Rim nations — including Australia, Chile, Japan, Mexico, Vietnam and Singapore — that has been in the works since 2005.

And the opposition to those is strong. "We have a really good shot at changing the direction of trade policy," Michael Stumo, head of the Washington-based Coalition for a Prosperous America, told a crowd gathered in a Mount Read Boulevard union hall Wednesday. Stumo was among a variety of panelists talking before a crowd of mostly labor union members, pushing the case for big changes in the country's free trade policies and for the audience to lobby their Congressional representatives.

Stumo is scheduled to be part of a similar talk Tuesday in Depew, Erie County.

The idea that unions are for changes in trade policy "but business isn't isn't true anymore," Stumo said. And with many Tea Party Republicans also opposing such proposals as fast track and the Trans-Pacific Partnership — primarily from what they would do for American sovereignty — "That may be the biggest new receptive audience," Stumo said.

Free trade has not been all good news for the United States. A trade surplus with Mexico before NAFTA has turned into a a $53 billion-a-year trade deficit, said author and tax journalist David Cay Johnson, while a $10 billion trade deficit with South Korea has turned into $25 billion since 2012's U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement.

Trade deals "are about bringing the U.S. down to the worldwide average wage," Johnson said.

Stumo said the wage differences between the United States and developing world often get blamed as causing trade deficits, but the fact even-better-paying Germany is the world's largest exporter indicates otherwise.

Instead, Stumo said, the problem is that other countries are using tax structures in the place of tariffs to make imports from America more expensive, as well as currency manipulation and state subsidization of industries. "They're not true free-market players," he said.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership would eliminate any "Buy American" procurement policies in government spending, said Frank Hotchkiss, organizing coordinator for the United Steelworkers District 4.

"We can't allow this to happen," he said.

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