Trade Reports Offer Competing Data

Posted September 25, 2013 at 2:48pm

No matter which side of the trade debate a group is on, it is almost certain to invoke a recent study on jobs to bolster its argument.

Labor unions and other critics of recent trade deals argue that the pacts have cost U.S. workers good jobs, as big corporations send manufacturing work offshore to countries with fewer worker protections and lower wages.

In the debate over data, unions and other trade skeptics have focused on a recently implemented free-trade deal with Korea, one the Obama administration renegotiated to include additional labor incentives. The 18 months of data show that U.S. exports to Korea have declined since the pact took effect.

In a study this summer titled “No Jobs from Trade Pacts,” Robert Scott of the Economic Policy Institute looked at the Korea numbers and projected the Trans-Pacific Partnership could be “much worse than the over-hyped Korea deal.”

Scott wrote that even though President Barack Obama said the U.S.-Korea deal would increase U.S. goods exports by $10 billion to $11 billion, supporting 70,000 American jobs, “things are not turning out the way the president predicted.”

Scott said in an interview that his chief message in the report was that Korea has turned out to be a job-loser.

“In the first year,” he said, “we lost about 40,000 jobs directly related to growing trade deficits with Korea.”

Michael Froman, the U.S. trade representative, said he wouldn’t judge the whole Korea deal based on “one month or one year of data.” He said unusual spikes in corn prices, for example, had skewed the overall numbers, and he noted that auto and dairy exports are up. “So there are lots of positive stories,” he said.

Froman argues that the TPP deal would help expand the U.S. economy, but a September report by David Rosnick of the Center for Economic and Policy Research concluded that most U.S. wage earners would not come out ahead under the TPP.

Calman Cohen, president of the pro-trade Emergency Committee for American Trade, said his members want to invest at home and abroad.

“ECAT over the years has had outstanding economists do analysis of the data — number crunching — and the conclusion they have repeatedly come to is that without U.S. investment overseas, there would be lower levels of investment here,” he said.