WASHINGTON — Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) took to the Senate floor Friday evening to make a point-by-point analysis of why a trade deal being negotiated by President Barack Obama would harm the United States.
Merkley’s comments came as the Senate voted to give Obama “fast track” authority that will allow him to negotiate a deal that Congress can then approve with an up or down vote, but cannot alter.
While Obama has said that the deal, called the Trans-Pacific Partnership, is “the most progressive framework for trade” the United States has ever had, Merkley argued on Friday that the deal would hurt American workers, increase inequality and undermine American sovereignty.
“We are creating a structure of a group of seven very poor nations with very low wages, five affluent nations with higher wages, and think about the difference between running an operation on the mound or Malaysia or Mexico, with a minimum wage of less than $2 an hour, and in Vietnam with a minimum wage of 60 to 70 cents depending on what part of the country you’re in,” Merkley said. “Think about the difference between that and the minimum wage in the United States. It is a 10-to-1 differential.”
While Obama has claimed that the agreement contains tough environmental and labor standards, Merkley said that simply wasn’t the case and that the TPP wasn’t any different than other free trade agreements.
“In order to have something that was fundamentally different, we would have to have something like snap-back tariffs. A situation where a country deeply violated its promises on labor standards, deeply violated its promises on environmental standards, but there would be some sort of quick and certain reversal of the benefits of the trade agreement,” Merkley said. “But there is nothing like that in this agreement. There is no change. So here we are repeating the same basic structure of the other agreements with no changes for America and therefore no improvement for the workers of the United States of America.”
The Oregon Democrat added that the trade agreement would undermine U.S. sovereignty by allowing foreign countries to challenge American laws — like labeling requirements on meat and other food safety requirements — that could negatively impact them. A spokesman for United States Trade Representative Michael Froman told The Huffington Post last week that the trade agreement would not change existing food safety laws.
Obama has accused critics of his trade agreement of misleading the public, and has said publicly that he would welcome a debate on the facts. Those facts, however, are nearly impossible to determine because lawmakers can’t share the details of the deal with the public until after a trade agreement is reached.