James P. Hoffa: U.S.-Korea Pact Shows the False Promises of ‘Free’ Trade

By Teamsters General President James P. Hoffa
Published in the Detroit News, March 12, 2014

Michigan and American workers know all too well the high price of unfair trade. But while the 20-year-old NAFTA deal is the focus of much of the blame, it is hardly the only reason why millions of U.S. middle-class jobs have evaporated in recent years.

Take, for instance, the U.S.-Korea Free Trade Agreement (KORUS). The contentious deal is coming up on its two-year anniversary later this week. Supporters promised it would create 70,000 American jobs from increased exports, but the reality is much different. In fact, the most recent administration numbers crunched by Public Citizen’s Global Trade Watch shows Michigan has lost 2,800 jobs from the pact and seen a $518 million drop in net exports to Korea. Overall, more than 40,000 Americans are now out of work due to the agreement.

KORUS doesn’t get the headlines NAFTA does or even the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) does. But those losses in state and across the country are real. It is the most recent example of the kind of damage trade deals that don’t take workers’ interests into consideration can do to America.

U.S. trade data released at the end of 2013 back this up. It shows there has been a decline in U.S. exports to Korea, a rise in imports from Korea and an increase in the U.S. trade deficit since KORUS took effect. Specifically, it shows that in 20 of the 21 months since the trade deal was implemented, exports have fallen below the average monthly level in the year before the deal; monthly exports to Korea since KORUS are 12 percent lower than before it took effect; and the monthly trade deficit with Korea has soared by 49 percent.

Those numbers are shocking, considering the U.S. International Trade Commission estimated the trade agreement would increase U.S. exports by as much as $11 billion once it is phased in. But during the first year in place, exports actually fell by $3.5 billion.

It is because of numbers like these that the Teamsters are wary of future trade deals. No one is against trade per se; we’re just against unfair trade. Given the public is being kept in the dark when it comes to the TPP, that’s a big reason for concern. If it is such a good deal, as supporters claim, why not release the text so everyone can take a look? What’s the big secret?

Also, any trade deal should have a chance to be debated before Congress. But that is not likely to happen when it comes to the TPP if the administration gets its wish. It wants a quick up-or-down vote using fast-track trade authority, but that would stop those in the House and Senate from amending the trade pact or even discussing it fully. That is no way to handle a deal that could lead to thousands of hard-working Americans getting a pink slip from their employers.

When the U.S. negotiates a trade agreement, every provision should benefit working families, not big corporations. But it is clear that has not been happening. It didn’t happen with NAFTA, it isn’t happening with KORUS and it won’t happen with TPP. People need to realize this and Congress needs to understand it.

Numbers don’t lie. Workers are losing under these trade deals. A new plan of action is needed now.

To read archived articles from General President Hoffa, click here.