Poor trade deals are hurting Maine’s economy and costing us jobs. This must stop. As House chair of the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission, I am committed to standing against agreements that harm our state and people. Created by the Legislature in 2003, the commission has a duty to assess and monitor the impacts of trade agreements on state and local laws. And we have extensively reviewed the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by the Obama administration.
I am opposed to the TPP. I am not necessarily against “free trade,” but our review of the TPP shows that very little of it will open markets and increase economic activity for Maine companies. Rather, it focuses on regulatory standards and enforcement provisions that will benefit only large multinational corporations.
It does nothing to help Maine workers — the people I represent.
The TPP would likely reduce the growth of manufacturing, natural resources and energy industries, and any benefits that Maine could expect wouldn’t be fully realized until 2032, according to the Margaret Chase Smith Policy Center’s analysis of the trade pact, commissioned by the CTPC.
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That’s too long. Maine can’t afford to risk job losses for a potential gain more than 15 years down the line.
This is not the time to deal a blow to manufacturing in Maine. Jobs in manufacturing are already suffering. Sixty years ago, employment in manufacturing accounted for 43 percent of nonfarm jobs, but in 2011 it accounted for just 8.5 percent of jobs, according to the Maine Department of Labor. Many companies are moving jobs overseas, where labor and environmental standards are lower, which in turn leads to less expensive goods and services because labor is cheaper.
In just the past two years, five mills have closed in Maine in part from increased foreign competition. We have other businesses in Maine as well that could be hurt by the TPP as it gives an unfair advantage to other companies with operations overseas.
New Balance, for example, employs more than 900 workers in Norridgewock, Norway and Skowhegan who make sneakers right here in the United States. The TPP would phase out all footwear tariffs in its first year. That could put New Balance at a disadvantage with companies such as Nike that manufacture shoes in Vietnam, which accounts for a quarter of U.S. footwear imports, where the cost of production is lower. If more lower cost footwear is imported into the U.S., that could put those 900 New Balance jobs here on the line.
I also strongly object to the undemocratic way the TPP was negotiated and the process Congress must follow in considering its passage. The TPP was crafted without the input of states that have much to lose if overseas companies are given an unfair advantage. Here in Maine, the CTPC brought together lawmakers, governmental officials and members of the public, including small-business owners and farmers, who have the state’s best interests at heart.
But the U.S. trade representative negotiated the TPP in secret, taking advice from hundreds of corporate and industry representatives with little or no legislative or public input. When “fast track” authority passed Congress in June 2015, it gave lawmakers the option for only an up or down vote on the TPP. Congress has no authority to amend it.
Maine people have a right to know what deals are being negotiated on their behalf and how they are going to impact our economy and livelihoods. We still are struggling to recover from the recession, and we need to ensure that any agreement made at the federal level will not lead to further business closures and job losses in our state.
Because of the threat to Maine manufacturing jobs, I cannot support this agreement. I hope Maine residents and state officials will stand with me in opposing the TPP and in calling on our congressional delegation to reject it.
Rep. Robert Saucier is a Democrat in his second term in the Maine House and represents part of Presque Isle. He serves on the Legislature’s Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry Committee and the Veterans and Legal Affairs Committee. He also is the House chair of the Maine Citizen Trade Policy Commission.