Tampa’s Democratic U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor says she is leaning against giving “fast track” authority to President Obama for the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a trade deal involving the U.S. and 11 South American and Pacific Rim nations that if enacted would be the largest trade deal since the 1994 North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) between Mexico, Canada and the U.S.
Last week leaders of tax committees in both the House and Senate agreed to legislation that gives Congress the right to vote on the trade deal — but prevents them from including amendments that could stop its progress.
Critics deb it “NAFTA on steroids,” and claim it will send more jobs overseas and weaken environmental and labor law standards. The deal has been negotiated secretly, something that bothers Castor.
“Here’s the issue,” she told Florida Politics on Tuesday. “As a member of Congress, we really haven’t had access to the actual agreements. Now there’s a committee meeting today in the U.S. Senate. I’m going to monitor that and see what happens with it. I’m going to get all the materials that I can, but without being able to review these agreements, it’s very difficult to say OK.”
In a guest editorial last month in The Washington Post, economic professors David Autor, David Dorn and Gordon Hanson wrote that the TPP would actually be good for U.S. workers because:
- It would promote trade in knowledge-intensive services where U.S. companies exert a strong comparative advantage;
- Killing it wouldn’t bring any more factors jobs to America, and;
- It would also raise regulatory rules and standards for several of China’s key trading partners, which in turn would pressure China to meet some of those standards and stop its attempts to “game global trade ” to impede foreign multinational companies.
In a separate story in the Post, Labor Secretary Thomas Perez said he shared the skepticism with his friends about NAFTA, which he describes as “woefully weak in protecting workers and on the enforcement side.” He argued that the TPP will be able to “fix” NAFTA, claiming that the TPP calls on countries to enact or make sure that they have meaningful labor protections, such as the freedom of association, health and safety, and acceptable conditions of work in place to part of the pact.
However, independent Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders calls the TPP, “a fundamentally flawed agreement, a part of a history of flawed agreements.” The Nation reports that under the deal, Buy America and other Buy Local procurement preferences that invest in the U.S. economy would be banned, and “sweat-free,” human rights or environmental conditions on government contracts could be challenged.
Congresswoman Castor says the issue for her is that even though the economy has rebounded to a certain extent from the recession a few years ago, “There’s still a lot of economic uncertainty, and when you talk about trade, for so many people that means, ‘oh gosh, off-shoring of jobs.’
“I’ve got to get into this agreement and see,” she said. “Does it open up markets? Or will it build on the economic fears of so many people that it will weaken our economic position?”
The answer for her, at this point, is the latter.