Last week, amid mounting signs that the job market may be deteriorating further, Tim Robertson, Director of the California Fair Trade Coalition, interviewed U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Ron Kirk about the implications of the Korea, Colombia, and Panama trade deals. In the course of the interview, Kirk seemed to suggest that the Obama administration's trade policy encouraged shrinking the number of jobs in the United States. According to Kirk, our massive trade deficit is inconsequential since the imports constitute goods that "we don't want to make in America." He explains:
Let's increase our competitiveness... the reality is about half of our imports, our trade deficit is because of how much oil [we import], so you take that out of the equation, you look at what percentage of it are things that frankly, we don't want to make in America, you know, cheaper products, low-skill jobs that frankly college kids that are graduating from, you know, UC Cal and Hastings [don't want], but what we do want is to capture those next generation jobs and build on our investments in our young people, our education infrastructure. Our advanced services like [at the architecture firm where we met], there's no reason in the world ... why would we not want to capture the economic benefit of that here in America? I mean, I would argue that that is exactly the reason that we're doing it.
With the unemployment rate at nine percent, it's hard to fathom a government official saying that the United States should pass up jobs, even if those jobs don't require a degree. Shoes are arguably some of the "cheaper products" that Kirk references. The Washington Post recently ran a piece about New Balance's shoe plant in Maine where the workers are glad to be keeping their jobs, contrary to Kirk's assertion that we don't want to make them anymore:
“We want to fight really hard to keep this business in Maine,” said Lori Cook, 28, a single mom with two kids. “I’d like to keep my job.”
The Korea trade deal, projected to result in the loss of 159,000 U.S. jobs, will not just displace workers in the apparel industry, however. The Korea FTA will increase the U.S. deficit in cutting-edge industries, including electronics and motor vehicles, costing us even the "next generation" jobs that Kirk extolls. The Korea, Colombia, and Panama trade deals clearly endanger President Obama's job creation agenda, and USTR Ron Kirk should go back to the drawing board to formulate a trade policy that creates jobs instead of one that eliminates them.