You may have heard thatÂ Fast TrackÂ has helped depress wages for Americaâs workers over the past 20-plus years. How does it do this?
Fast Track is a trade policy in which Congress cedes its accountability over trade policy (the Constitution calls it âregulat[ing] Commerce with foreign Nationsâ) to the executive branch and promises to advance the trade deals the executive branch brings back in an accelerated process that allowsÂ no amendmentsÂ andÂ very limited debate.
On the one hand, it may make some amount of sense to delegate negotiating authority to the executive branch. I mean, really, can you imagine simultaneously flying 435 representatives and 100 senators all over the world to negotiate trade deals? I know, I know, some people think it would be an improvement to get Congress as far away from Washington as possible, but letâs be practical: 535 people (and their aides) on a negotiating team?
However, the accountability that Congress gives up when it tells the executive branch to go negotiate an agreement makesÂ no sense at all. Instead of setting up mandatory negotiating goalsâand requiring the executive branch to demonstrate it has achieved those goalsÂ beforeÂ sending the trade agreement to Congress for a vote â Fast Track includes ânegotiating objectives,â which the executive branch should only âmake progressâ toward. And there is no independent evaluation that requires the executive branch to meet even that low bar.
Yup. Itâs true: Under Fast Track, Congress cedes its authority without guaranteeing that Americans get a good trade deal in return.
As a result, the executive branch has repeatedly sent bad deal after bad deal to Congress: the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the World Trade Organization (WTO) talks, theÂ Central American Free Trade Agreement, theÂ U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreement, theÂ U.S.-KoreaÂ trade agreement, just to name a few. And theyâve all passed under Fast Track.
And workers have paid the price for these bad trade deals: The Economic Policy Institute (EPI) has determined that net job displacement since China entered the WTO in 2001 cost the U.S. economyÂ $37.0 billion in lost wages in 2011 alone! And the impact has not been equalâit has displaced a disproportionately large number of good jobs for minority workersâ958,800 good jobs with excellent benefits, 35% of total jobs displaced.
And itâs not just the WTO that has harmed U.S. workers. NAFTA has displaced nearly 700,000 jobs and has helped push wages down. AsÂ Jeff Faux writes:
âNAFTA strengthened the ability of U.S. employers to force workers to accept lower wages and benefits. As soon as NAFTA became law, corporate managers began telling their workers that their companies intended to move to Mexico unless the workers lowered the cost of their labor. In the midst of collective bargaining negotiations with unions, some companies would even start loading machinery into trucks that they said were bound for Mexico. The same threats were used to fight union organizing efforts. The message was: âIf you vote in a union, we will move south of the border.ââ
And now Congress wants to pass another Fast Track law to allow more Fast Track trade agreements?Â Where is the evidence that these agreements have been good for working people? Where is the evidence that these agreements have grown the middle class? We must say no to Fast Track. The promises of NAFTA-style agreements have thus far not lived up to the hype. We have to fight for better policies that work for all of usânot just the 1%.