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Why I oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Trade Promotion Authority

REUTERS/Yuya Shino
The Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) repeats the harmful practices of past deals.

The upcoming trade vote in Congress is about one thing: Americans who work hard for a living. It’s about whether we slow down and change the terms of a bad trade deal so that it benefits working people — those Americans who lay awake at night wondering how they’re going to make ends meet.

Rep. Keith Ellison

If President Barack Obama and his Republican allies get members of Congress to vote in favor of the Trade Promotion Authority, then a deal that encompasses 40 percent of the world’s economy will zoom to President Obama’s desk. If members hold firm and demand a fair trade deal, then Americans have a chance. 

The fight over trade comes at a time when Americans are putting in long hours at their first job, and spending nights away from their families working a second job.  All of these folks who work hard for a living are exhausted every day because they are doing everything they can to provide for their loved ones.  

But they just can’t get ahead.


One reason is that our nation’s leaders, Republicans and Democrats, repeatedly signed trade deals that turned out to be bad deals for American workers. Our leaders didn’t vote for these agreements to hurt Americans who work hard for a living. They believed America’s biggest corporations would share profits fairly with the workers who produced the wealth.

But the record on trade deals is clear. Bad trade deals destroyed jobs and depressed wages. American workers were left behind and huge corporations got richer. In the 20 years after NAFTA, we lost 1 million jobs.  Communities from Bangor to Baltimore, Cleveland to Huntsville, and New Orleans to Los Angeles were devastated. My own Minnesota lost jobs to bad trade deals.  African-American [PDF] and Latino workers were hit the hardest by fleeing factories and job losses. 

My colleagues and I who voted against Trade Promotion Authority are not isolationists. We’re not against trade. We understand we live in a global economy. Many members of Congress have proposed models for fair trade deals that can’t even get a debate or a vote in the Congress. But the newest trade proposal before us, the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), repeats the harmful practices of past deals. It contains specific threats to working people. I will continue to vote against Trade Promotion Authority until the Trans-Pacific Partnership is fixed.

Risks to our environment, safety, laws

If hurting workers wasn’t bad enough, several parts of the proposed deal risk our environment, the safety of our food and drugs, and even our nation’s laws. For example, a corporation could sue the United States if it thinks our policies reduce their profits. This is a process called Investor State Dispute Settlement, technical language meant to protect investors in countries without rule of law. The trade negotiators tell us “not to worry” because we have never lost a case. But opening laws that protect our meat, fruits and vegetables to the prying fingers of the world’s biggest corporations is a risk we shouldn’t take.

The proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership makes it easier for large corporations to dig deeper into our wallets. Drug companies ask for special breaks to give themselves control over pricing certain kinds of drugs, which means they can charge more to people all over the world. We’d all better hope someone in our family doesn’t need a drug that is overpriced thanks to the fine print in a trade deal.

Finally the proposed deal doesn’t begin to fix our nation’s huge trade deficit. In fact, it would make the deficit worse because TPP does not contain enforceable currency manipulation provisions. It would not stop currency manipulators who boost their exports and impede the flow of goods, creating trade deficits that cost American jobs. We already have trade deficits with more than half the countries negotiating to join the TPP. We cannot let our trade deficit explode like it did with Canada and Mexico after NAFTA passed.

Key questions to ask

So here are the questions we should ask ourselves before voting on Trade Promotion Authority:

Does the proposed deal help or hurt Americans who work hard every day to make ends meet?

Does the proposed deal bring back jobs to communities like Baltimore, Flint, Minneapolis, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Oakland?

Does the proposed deal ask our partner nations to stop jailing labor organizers; to stop human trafficking; to raise environmental protections?

If the answer to these questions is no – I think it is a resounding no — then we should vote no.  

It’s time to work for a fair trade deal that will grow American jobs and wages, rather than accelerate a race to the bottom. We must put the fast-track deal back on the right track — back on the side of every American.

Rep. Keith Ellison represents Minnesota’s 5th District in the U.S. House of Representatives. This article is reprinted from the congressman’s website.

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Comments (17)

  1. Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/18/2015 - 08:28 am.

    Vague generalities

    Your article was pretty short on specifics on what you would do instead. If you really want to create jobs for Minnesota’s “African-American and Latino workers [who] were hit the hardest by fleeing factories and job losses,” you need to do the following:

    1. Close the Mexican border so they’re not competing for scarce service and production jobs with illegal aliens who will work for less.

    2. Work to impose 25% tariffs on all foreign goods, especially Chinese and Mexican. That would match what China is charging us, for example. That would cause American companies to consider bringing those jobs home.

    3. Work to eliminate the capital gains and corporate income tax. That would attract investors and manufacturers from all over the world to set up plants and other operations in this country. Instead, they’re fleeing this country.

    Alas, I’m betting you’re most likely to oppose those things.

    • Submitted by Clete Erickson on 06/18/2015 - 10:39 am.

      #4: Stop letting in legal foreign workers (H-1B visas) who are trained by the US employees they are replacing. An example would be what Disney was doing to some of their employees after Disney’s most profitable year ever.

      I agree the position piece does not really spell out any alternatives. Being against something is one thing but working towards a solution is another matter. Thanks!

    • Submitted by Peter Stark on 06/18/2015 - 10:45 am.

      Capital Gains

      Rep. Ellison opposes cutting the Capital Gains Tax to increase investment because it doesn’t work:

    • Submitted by Solly Johnson on 06/19/2015 - 12:39 am.

      corporate income taxes

      Many U.S. corporations, GE being one example, have not paid corporate income taxes for several years; in fact, they have even received rebates from the federal government. Corporations in many Western European nations pay higher corporate income taxes than in the USA, simply because they do not have numerous loopholes to avoid taxes.

  2. Submitted by Matthew Steele on 06/18/2015 - 09:26 am.

    Thank you!

    Rep. Ellison,
    Thank you for standing up to this secrecy, this corporate rule of government, and this sellout of American values.

  3. Submitted by Joe Smith on 06/18/2015 - 09:42 am.

    You can’t have fair trade when the playing field is tilted in other countries favor to the extent it is. If USA can reduce corporate tax rate to attract companies to do business here that would be a start. Giving a tax break or tax holiday to allow companies that have trillions invested/stashed in other countries a chance to bring that money home, invest it in creating jobs and expanding their businesses here.
    On a separate note, Ellison can’t talk about fair trade without throwing out race “African-American and Latino were hit hardest” and environmental scare tactics. Geeze that gets old!

    • Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/19/2015 - 05:19 pm.

      On the contrary

      companies are already taking advantage of loopholes to avoid corporate taxes, so the real rate of taxation is much lower than the nominal rate.

      Besides, there are many things that a company can do to lower its tax burden: 1) Hire more people or give them better pay and benefits,, 2) Conduct R&D programs, 3) Expand or upgrade its facilities, 4) Conduct new marketing and advertising programs, 5) Buy new equipment, 6) Hire outside consultants, 7) Make charitable contributions. You get the idea. All of these steps not only reduce a company’s tax burden but with the possible exception of 7), provide jobs for someone else.

      Yes, yes, I know the Almighty and Sacred Shareholders Who Are to Be Worshiped Above All Gods Except Market Forces will not like it, but so what? The mere wants of the 1% (none of whom would be harmed if corporate income taxes were raised and loopholes closed) have outweighed the needs of the 99% for too long.

      Reagan’s lowering of corporate taxes provided the major shareholders of corporate America with a huge windfall, and not surprisingly, they liked it and began to demand continuous increases in shareholder value–no matter who got hurt (other than themselves, of course).

      Who was harmed? Anyone who worked a job that could be offshored or outsourced to temporary workers, anyone whose departing colleagues were not replaced and as a result had to do the work of two people, and no, it’s not just low-skilled workers who are harmed. Others have referred to the H1B system of replacing experienced IT professionals with newbies from overseas, and there’s more. I was surprised a couple of years ago when I needed an X-ray at an office of one of our local health care conglomerates (non-profit, but that doesn’t mean their executives can’t have exorbitant salaries), and the films had to be e-mailed to India to be read by an Indian radiologist. Because there are no radiologists in the U.S.? Because the primary physician who examined me was incapable of diagnosing a broken elbow from a clear X-ray? If the cost savings from tactics like subcontracting to a radiologist in India are so great, why do we as patients see only rising costs?

      Today’s conservatives are one-trick ponies. If the economy is good, they want tax cuts for the rich and for businesses. If the economy is bad, they want tax cuts for the rich and for businesses.

  4. Submitted by Brian Stricherz on 06/18/2015 - 01:08 pm.

    Dennis Tester wrote: “2. Work to impose 25% tariffs on all foreign goods, especially Chinese and Mexican. That would match what China is charging us, for example. That would cause American companies to consider bringing those jobs home.”

    Mexican? Wasn’t NAFTA mentioned by name in this article? So are you anti-NAFTA and pro-TPP? That wouldn’t make a lick of sense.

    • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/18/2015 - 01:23 pm.

      I’m not pro-TPP

      I’m oppose TPP for the right reasons, unlike Ellison.

      • Submitted by Brian Stricherz on 06/18/2015 - 05:24 pm.

        Sincerely curious….

        What do you see as the right reasons?

        • Submitted by Dennis Tester on 06/18/2015 - 07:00 pm.

          It’s not the role of government

          to enter into “trade agreements.” The government doesn’t “trade” anything.

          Private enterprise can pay for their own legal and marketing departments to do business with overseas markets. There’s no need to have governments intervene in the process. It’s ripe for crony capitalism and backroom deals that reward friends and punish enemies. We don’t need that.

          If the government wants to get involved in trade they can impose tariffs on foreign goods.

          • Submitted by RB Holbrook on 06/19/2015 - 11:19 am.

            Trade agreement

            It sounds to me like you don’t know what a “trade agreement” is.

            Trade agreements are about opening up borders to trade, and eliminating impediments (even if those impediments serve some worthy goal).

  5. Submitted by Jon Kingstad on 06/18/2015 - 02:59 pm.

    Principled opposition

    There are lots of reasons to be opposed to the Trans-Pacific Partnership, like there are reasons to want repeal of NAFTA or any of the other so-called “free trade agreements.” We’ve had more than 15 years of experience with NAFTA and I haven’t read of any good that’s come of it. From what I know, it hasn’t come close to living up to its promises and it’s created a host of new problems.

    The main reason to be against the TPP is process and secrecy. What we’ve heard of it hasn’t been because our corporate overlords have been frank or candid with the people. Rep. Ellison has given three substantive reasons to be against it. They all add up to saying the TPP is not about “free trade”. The TPP is about some other agenda which we’re not being told. That’s enough to warrant voting against it. The burden is on the proponents of those who want legislation like this passed to explain why a trade agreement like this is in the “public interest.”

  6. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 06/19/2015 - 05:21 pm.

    Thank you, Congressman Ellison

    for the opposition that you and your colleagues in the Progressive Caucus have maintained against the TPP and the related agreements.

    Sometimes it feels as if your Caucus is all that is standing between ordinary Americans and descent into a Third World levels of inequality and poverty for the majority.

    Now if only you had held out for a public option for health care…

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