US - National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson argues in a POLITICO Pro guest column that all future US trade agreements should be negotiated with the goal of reducing the US trade deficit, while ensuring that our trading partners are keeping up with their end of the agreement and abiding by US standards.
"US trade negotiators have lost sight of getting a fair shake in trade over the years as they have entered into a string of agreements under the assumption that increased trade and the elimination of trade and investment barriers was, in and of itself, a worthy goal," notes Mr Johnson.
"In fact, our nation has been so willing to sacrifice almost anything in its lust for more trade that the concept of fair and equal trade seems to have fallen into an abyss."
Mr Johnson argues that trade is neither inherently good nor bad; it’s just trade. “And for the US, it has become anything but fair,” he says.
Mr Johnson points out that while trade has benefitted US agriculture, which represents about 10 per cent of net exports, the good news stops there. "In fact, since joining the World Trade Organisation (WTO) and entering into free trade agreements with 20 different countries, instead of promoting economic growth, the US has seen its trade deficit increase. And as such, it has become a major net drag on our economy," he says.
The US had a $471.5 billion trade deficit in 2013. In the month of September 2014 alone, the US had a $43 billion trade deficit, which, according to the US Census Bureau, represented a full three percent drag on the US Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
"In other words, if the trade deficit did not exist, our economy would be doing three per cent better, generating good jobs for Americans and offering a future for our children," he says.
Mr Johnson explains that under various trade agreements, many important US laws protecting investors, labor rights, the environment and the US currency have been preempted in favour of —simply— more trade.
"The net result is that products are often produced in nations with the lowest standards in these areas, hurting US workers who are competing on uneven turf and pushing the nation deeper into debt," he says.
Mr Johnson argues that this nation’s leaders – on both sides of the aisle – seem fully committed to rushing into yet more trade talks. The US is currently negotiating two trade deals: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement with 11 countries in the Asia-Pacific region and the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), an agreement with the European Union.
Mr Johnson notes that the US needs to take a new approach to trade, which includes three important guidelines:
- All future US trade agreements should have the goal of reducing and ultimately eliminating the US trade deficit, not just increasing trade flows.
- The US must not enter agreements that will subvert the jurisdiction of our important and hard-fought domestic laws, protecting workers, the environment and our children.
- The US needs to stop thinking of trade as if it were a club by which it can single-handedly browbeat other nations into changing their behaviour. "It was this mindset that brought us the failed Cuban trade embargo, something National Farmers Union has opposed for years.
"Thankfully, the Obama administration has taken the first step. Now it is time for Congress to fully lift the embargo."
"The time is now to open a new chapter on America’s trade policies. Moving forward, let’s make sure these deals have real, balanced and fair benefits for us, before we put our names on them," he says.
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