My good job
Has flown away;
Lost it to N-

After years of debate and delay, Congress finally passed those free-trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia, and Panama.

There go 159,000 more jobs that we’re likely to lose to Seoul after the Korean deal goes into effect on March 15, according to the Economic Policy Institute (EPI). And 55,000 to Bogotá, after the Colombian pact becomes operative too.

Our workers won’t get so many pink slips because of Panama, because that country doesn’t export much.

But big agribusiness corporations hope, NAFTA-style, to flood Panama with a deluge of subsidized, duty-free grain. The USDA expects farm exports to soar by $2.3 billion, which may sound nice to us. But this flood of food could put Panamanian farmers out of business. And U.S. banks wanted to enhance Panama’s traditional role as the Western Hemisphere’s money-laundering citadel, so they pushed for the trade deal.

(Public Citizen / Flickr)

(Public Citizen / Flickr)

Naturally, grain will flow unimpeded to Colombia and South Korea too, although Korean markets may prefer rice to our wheat or corn. But South Korea’s industrial moguls will get a special benefit. Of the manufactured goods they’ll now send duty-free to the United States, a portion can be made in North Korean sweatshops.

Still, all this new outsourcing is peanuts compared to China’s admission to the World Trade Organization in 2001. That move cost the United States about 2.8 million jobs, EPI found. American manufacturers have been thrilled ever since to buy their component parts so cheaply. But ironically, those rock-bottom prices are derived not only from China’s serf-like wages, but also from our own federal deficit.

America’s refusal to tax itself sufficiently means we have to borrow huge sums just to keep our government afloat. China loans our own money back to us, which sustains the high value of the dollar and the low value of the yuan. That helps assure that Chinese goods will remain cheaper than ours.

Our pact with Jordan is perhaps the worst of the bunch. Jordanian garments flow in here freely to Walmart, Target, Macy’s, and other major vendors, but no Jordanians ever touch them. Instead, Asian entrepreneurs open factories there and import young Bangladeshi and Sri Lankan women to do the dirty work. You can imagine the conditions. Presumably Jordanian aristocrats get a cut somewhere along the line. Anyway, all this conniving was running smoothly and quietly until the Institute for Global Labour and Human Rights revealed that plant managers were raping some of the workers. It created quite a scandal in Jordan, but not here.

With cheap imports woven so tightly into U.S. manufacturing and retail, corporations have a lot at stake. Thus, their generous campaign contributions roll into the big political parties’ coffers during election years.

What about American workers? Manufacturers don’t seem to need that many anymore. Not only have millions of jobs flown overseas, but millions more have been lost to technology. Meanwhile, legislative assaults spearheaded by Republicans and corporate lobbyists have slashed the numbers of workers who belong to unions.

And the free-trade juggernaut rumbles relentlessly on under the mantra of “cheaper goods.” Cheaper they are, but with America’s stagnating median family income, tens of millions of us can’t afford goods at any price nowadays.

After years of decline, the number of U.S. manufacturing jobs has begun to inch up. But we’d see up to 2.25 million new jobs created within two years if Washington were to compel China and other Asian nations to stop manipulating their currencies, according to EPI economist Robert E. Scott.

Germany has survived this plague pretty well with higher taxes, more education, selective tariffs, higher wages, long vacations, and less borrowing. Our attitude is different. Workers here are expendable. That’s why keep forging these suicidal trade deals.

OtherWords columnist William A. Collins is a former state representative, and a former mayor of Norwalk, Connecticut.

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