North Carolina’s two United States senators, Richard Burr and Thom Tillis, were among those voting last week to give President Barack Obama the power to negotiate the Trans-Pacific Partnership and related treaties, without fear of Congressional filibuster or amendment.
We hope they know what they were doing.
International trade agreements which knock down tariffs and open borders have not been kind to Mount Airy and most of the South. We might argue those agreements have not been good for virtually all of the manufacturing base in America, regardless of geography.
The most glaring example of that was the North American Free Trade Agreement, which was ratified by Congress in November 1993 and took effect Jan. 1, 1994. As former presidential candidate Ross Perot warned, we heard a giant sucking sound when manufacturing jobs were ripped away from the United States and sent south to Mexico and the Caribbean.
Of course, that meant thousands of local textile jobs moved from Mount Airy, and throughout the South hundreds of thousands of those jobs left the country. Later, furniture and other manufacturing jobs moved offshore as well.
That should have been entirely predictable, given the history of the textile industry — the jobs always move to the lowest cost job base, first from the Northeast to the South throughout the early part of the 20th century, and once trade barriers were knocked down, from the South to points in other nations.
There are some who still attempt to claim that NAFTA was a good agreement for America, that overall the United States’ economy benefited, even though some geographic regions or some industrial sectors suffered.
We would argue that the benefit was primarily to business owners, upper level management and stock holders, who profited from decreased costs associated with employee pay and safety and the lower — maybe even nonexistent — environmental protection laws of other nations.
The American workers found themselves scrambling for minimum wage jobs without benefits, cobbling together a schedule of two or even three jobs that, when combined, couldn’t provide for their families as well as their former manufacturing job.
While the government offered money for retraining for many of these workers, community colleges and training schools throughout the South churned out a glut of massage therapists, paralegals, CNAs and other cool-sounding jobs in fields that had no hope of accommodating the swelling ranks of retrained workers.
Most communities that were heavily dependent upon textiles, furniture, and similar industries have yet to fully recover, two decades after NAFTA’s passage.
To lay all the blame at the feet of NAFTA would be simplistic and foolish. Some businesses shot themselves in the foot along the way, others might have succumbed to a highly competitive field anyway. But we believe it’s safe to say the passage of NAFTA and related treaties signed in its wake did more to destroy the American industrial base, and harm the rank-and-file workers, than any other single event.
There are other serious concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership, among them the continual erosion of any sort of privacy rights U.S. citizens have online, the loss of service-industry jobs the United States could experience, along with the extreme secrecy under which this agreement is being negotiated. If this treaty is eventually adopted by the United States and turns out to be beneficial for the local and national economy, then communities ought to throw parades for their Congressional representatives who supported it. But if, as we fear, this is another blow to the already staggering industrial base of the United States, we hope voters remember who gave the president this negotiating power, and give them a ride right out of office via the ballot box.