In Greek mythology, Sisyphus paid for his sins by being compelled to push a boulder up a steep hill, only to have it roll back down, over and over again.
If the gods had really wanted to frustrate him, though, they would have assigned Sisyphus to fact-check the misinformation opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership are spreading in their desperate effort to block that manifestly beneficial free-trade agreement between the United States and 11 other countries.
“It’s a job-destroyer for Americans,” they cry. Here’s a typically tendentious iteration of that demagogic claim, from a May 1 news release issued by Sen. Robert Casey (D-Pa.): “8 of the 11 countries with which the U.S. is negotiating TPP have minimum wages lower than the United States minimum hourly wage of $7.25. Seven of these countries have minimum wages $3/hour, or no minimum wage at all. Two countries have minimum wages below $1/hour. This is a prime example of how this potential trade deal could undermine U.S. jobs.”
The three TPP countries with higher minimum wages than the United States are Australia, Canada and New Zealand.
In a fourth, Japan, the minimum wage is worth only about a dollar per hour less than that of the United States, according to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Japanese wages generally, however, are some of the highest in the world, especially in industries that actually export to the United States. To the extent it promotes U.S. market access to Japan, as it will, TPP is anything but a race to the bottom for U.S. producers.
These four high-wage nations — Canada, Japan, Australia and New Zealand — accounted for 56 percent of all goods traded with the United States in the TPP area during 2014, according to U.S. International Trade Commission data.
Lower-wage Mexico, Peru and Chile account for roughly 36 percent of TPP-area goods traded — yet the United States already has free-trade agreements with them, so they represent zero new low-wage competition for U.S. workers. The United States has trade surpluses with Peru and Chile, by the way.
TPP candidate Singapore has no minimum wage; so what? It’s a city-state of 5.5 million people, with a per capita income of more than $55,000 per year , and with which the United States already has free trade — and a $14 billion 2014 trade surplus.
A mere 5 percent of TPP-area trade in goods involves Vietnam and Malaysia — where wages are, indeed, substantially lower than in the United States, and with which the United States does not already have free trade. The United States has trade deficits with both.
An accurate description of TPP might go something like this: “The vast majority of trade affected by the deal would be between the United States and countries that are either high-wage developed nations, or moderate-income emerging economies. The deal would enhance the free-trade pacts the United States already has with some countries in both categories. Any modest risk to U.S. jobs from increased Vietnamese and Malaysian imports would be offset, at least in part, by improved U.S. access to their markets, and to that of Japan. TPP is about not only economics but also the geopolitical benefits of making already close ties between the United States and this strategic region even closer.”
As you can see, it took several inches of valuable op-ed space to establish those nuances. It would take acres to counter another disingenuous meme, which is that “the president won’t actually let the people read the agreement for themselves,” as Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) recently groused to The Post’s Greg Sargent. “It’s classified.”
No one knows what’s in it! It’s definitely bad for workers!
It’s utterly irresponsible for Warren and others to imply that the executive branch could, or should, disclose the content of sensitive international negotiations. The Obama administration has actually bent over backward to loop in “the people” — via their elected representatives in Congress — without violating diplomatic confidentiality.
Since 2012, the U.S. trade representative, Michael Froman, has made updated versions of the agreement, necessarily still a work in progress, available by request to members of Congress and their staffs with security clearances.
That was too cumbersome for some, so in March Froman deposited the documents in the secure basement room at the Capitol where members review other classified matter. His thanks? Rep. Charles Rangel (D-N.Y.) told the Hill newspaper that it’s “absolutely ridiculous that you have to go into a secret room.”
The Hill reports that a grand total of three senators and 40 House members had actually taken advantage of the chance to read the TPP as of April 27. (Warren, to her credit, was one of them.)
President Obama has met this hostile chorus with some of his trademark exasperation, likening Democrats’ anti-TPP propaganda to the GOP’s campaign against Obamacare.
Politically, that’s probably counter-productive. Substantively, though, the president is just telling it like it is.
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