There needs to be a real analysis about the results of global trade agreements, but for some the sanctity of trade relationships have become tantamount to a religion, Sen. Jeff Sessions says.
Speaking on the Senate floor Monday, the Alabama Republican highlighted the decline in American’s real hourly wages, median incomes, and shrinking middle class — arguing that while big government policies have had a big impact, so too have trade deals.
“It is time to begin a vigorous analysis of our conduct of trade,” Sessions said. “Do our policies and TPP concede too much to our mercantilist competitor allies?”
According to the Alabama lawmaker, there has not been enough consideration of the impact of trade agreements on the American worker and American incomes — so long as consumer prices decline with the deals.
“At bottom, we must ask whether or not our aggressive trading partners, using a mercantilist philosophy, may be gaining unfair advantage. These countries—good nations, good allies—are not religious about free trade,” Sessions said. “In general, while they assert their desire is for expanded free trade, their actual policies seek fewer U.S. exports to them using non-tariff as well as tariff barriers. Our trade competitors use currency manipulation, subsidies, and other actions to expand their exports to us. Their goal is, naturally, to seek full employment in their countries while exporting their unemployment to the United States.”
The lack of questioning and concessions from trade agreement advocates, Sessions said, acts almost as a religion.
“This refusal by many to acknowledge the mercantilist policies of our trading competitors has gone, it seems to me, from promoting healthy trading relationships to an ideology, even to the nature of a religion,” he said.
Sessions pointed out that while he too is in favor of less expensive products and has voted for trade agreements in the past, the trade deal before Congress is unsettling to him.
“Conservatism is not an ideology. It is a cast of mind. It lives in the real world. And certainly the real world is not working so well for Middle America today. Their financial status continues to decline. The conservative thing to do is to avoid dramatic and sudden changes that destabilize families and communities further—not to accelerate problems that exist,” the Alabama lawmaker argued.
He continued, pointing out the practical nature of capital versus workers — namely that workers are less mobile.
“So when a company closes its plant in the United States, and shifts production to a lower-wage country, the company may make more money but the workers, and their communities—who cannot move overseas—suddenly don’t have jobs. They are hurt.” he said. “Of course we cannot stop the effects of globalization. But we can work for trade agreements that create a more level playing field against our good but mercantilist trading partners.”
Overall, Sessions concluded trade agreements should benefit the American people.
Any trade agreement we enter into should have a mutually beneficial economic impact on all parties to the agreement. It must not have the effect of continuing or furthering the decline of manufacturing in the United States. It should seek to end trade unfairness and to increase, not reduce, wages in the United States. We can no longer afford to lose a single job to an unfair trade deal. Not one.
The problem, he stressed, however, is the fast-track proposal before Congress would essentially result in a rubber stamp for any end trade treaty over the next six years.
But the fast-track procedure ensures that any trade deal yet-unseen can pass through Congress with a minimum of actual scrutiny. After years of soaring trade deficits, shouldn’t we apply more scrutiny to trade agreements—not less? Are we afraid to ask tough questions? Take the issue of currency manipulation: this president has refused to confront this practice that provides a clear advantage for certain foreign countries. His negotiators have refused to put any provisions in the Trans-Pacific Partnership.