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June 15, 2011

Chamber of Commerce's Misleading Data Website Gives Only Half the Story

Today the Chamber of Commerce launched a website that purports to show the effects of U.S. trade upon jobs in each congressional district, as part of its lobbying campaign to pass the Korea, Colombia, and Panama Free Trade Agreements (FTAs).  Even a cursory review shows that the data included to represent “effects of trade” is only gross exports – imports are excluded, as are net figures that show the actual impact of trade on the districts. 

Indeed, the Chamber’s “new” website just repackages the previously-released old exports-only data featured in past Chamber “studies” of the FTAs. It’s the same misleading approach - like only counting deposits into ones bank account, not also withdrawals or the ending balance.

And, this is especially deceptive because it operates to cover up the huge U.S. trade deficit, which has been driven to astronomical levels by the very same NAFTA-style trade pacts supported by the Chamber of Commerce and the American jobs lost from years of large annual trade deficits.

When economists study the jobs impact of  trade pacts, they consider both sides of the ledger by estimating the number of jobs supported by exports as well as the number of jobs displaced by imports. As Nobelist Paul Krugman noted: " If you want a trade policy that helps employment, it has to be a policy that induces other countries to run bigger deficits or smaller surpluses. A countervailing duty on Chinese exports would be job-creating; a deal with South Korea, not…"

Studies that review both imports and exports explain why broad majorities of Americans are against the types of trade pacts the Chamber continues to promote. For instance, the Economic Policy Institute found that 5.6 million more jobs were displaced by imports than were supported by exports in 2007. Looking into the future, the Economic Policy Institute has estimated that implementation of the Korea and Colombia FTAs alone will lead to a net loss of 214,000 U.S. jobs due to rising trade deficits.

Exports support jobs, but the NAFTA-style trade pacts touted by the Chamber will lead to greater imports than exports, displacing workers in the United States. Says who? Well, among others, the Korea FTA’s lead negotiator Ambassador Karan Bhatia who was Pesident George W. Bush’s deputy U.S. trade representative. In an October 2006 speech to a Korean audience, Bhatia said that it was a “myth” that “the U.S. will get the bulk of the benefits of the FTA.” He went on to say, “If history is any judge, it may well not turn out to be true that the U.S. will get the bulk of the benefits, if measured by increased exports.” He added that, in the instance of Mexico and other countries, “the history of our FTAs is that bilateral trade surpluses of our trading partners go up,” meaning that the U.S. trade deficit with those countries increased. 

Even on its own terms, the Chamber website’s estimates of the number of jobs supported by exports in each congressional district are often double counted and misleading. According to the website’s own methodological summary, if any part of a county intersects with a congressional district, all of that county's exports and extrapolated “jobs-supported” are added to that  district's total. This leads to a huge degree of double-counting, since exports from a single county are often assigned to multiple congressional districts. In Texas alone, the sum of the number of jobs supported by exports in each congressional district is 250 percent greater than the state total given by the Chamber, meaning that the jobs estimate for the average Texas congressional district is inflated by 250 percent. Thus, users of the website are misled when they think they are accessing the number of jobs supported by exports in their congressional districts.

Public Citizen has estimated the number of jobs in each congressional district in sectors that will be hit particularly hard by the Korea FTA. A searchable database of these estimates is available at:
http://www.citizen.org/korea_fta_jobs_at_risk

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