Politicians take second look at trade agreements

January 8, 2010 6:40:08 PM PST
The loss of jobs may force changes to the United States' trade agreements with other countries. Free trade and how it may affect jobs and consumers is being discussed in Congress.

One of President Obama's campaign promises was to review some of the trade agreements the United States has with other countries. But because these agreements are law, it will take months, perhaps years, of renegotiating between countries.

Congressional leaders are once again resurrecting the fight against U.S. free trade policies. Jobs are the motivating force, especially now in this economy.

For years, labor leaders and some lawmakers have criticized trade pacts. One example is the North American Free Trade Agreement between Mexico, Canada and the U.S. which, they argue, has not been successful for either of these countries

The Economic Policy Institute found that more than 1 million jobs in the U.S. have been lost as a result of NAFTA.

And now, according to East Bay Rep. George Miller, it is time to make changes.

"We should renegotiate, rethink them based on the economic evidence we have today, based on upon the economy of the U.S. and the need to keep jobs in this country," Miller (D-Martinez) said.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union said Friday that containers coming into U.S. ports are full of high-value finished products, but what is being exported are recycled goods.

Miller echoed that claim.

"We're allowing people to import cars into this country but we are having great difficulties building cars in their country," he said.

On the other hand, business experts predict importing fewer of these cheaper products which sell at big-box stores will affect consumers.

"We have become kinds a dispensable society; we don't buy for the long term anymore, we buy products that we can afford, we understand they may have a lower quality and a lower shelf life," university of San Francisco professor Eugene Muscat said.

"Consumers love the discounted prices, but they don't have a job to even buy the discounted articles, you can't buy a refrigerator made in China if you don't have a job," Rep. John Garamendi (D-Walnut Creek) said.

Garamendi was recently elected, so he did not vote in 1993 when the house took up the NAFTA issue. Miller voted against it.