If Congress approves fast‐track, the United States will be able to negotiate market‐opening trade agreements with other nations. The bill coming up for a vote soon would authorize the president to submit trade agreements to Congress for an up‐or‐down vote without amendment. If the president is denied that authority, other nations will refuse to negotiate with the United States because any agreement reached with the executive branch could be unraveled line‐by‐line in Congress. Negotiations would be futile. And without trade agreements, the United States will miss crucial opportunities to eliminate barriers to trade in regions such as East Asia and Latin America and in important sectors such as services and agriculture.
Labor unions and other opponents of fast‐track claim that free trade destroys jobs when people substitute imported products for those “Made in the USA.” That claim is fact free.
Between 1980 and 1996, the real value of goods and services imported to the United States tripled from $323.5 billion to $959.8 billion (in 1996 dollars). During that same time, real gross domestic product expanded by 50 percent and total civilian employment rose by 27.4 million.
The new jobs created were not predominantly of the hamburger‐flipper type; they were good‐paying jobs, many in the service sector. During the last decade, the number of jobs supported by exports rose four times faster than the overall number of private‐industry jobs, to more than 12 million. And export jobs, on average, pay about 14 percent more than jobs in non‐export industries.
Of course, the dislocation caused by trade does eliminate jobs in less competitive industries, but it also creates at least as many new jobs. The impact of trade is not on the number of jobs but on their quality. By allowing Americans to specialize in what they produce best, free trade raises productivity, wages and living standards for the large majority of workers. Like technology, it leads to new products and new industries while enabling workers to produce more in an hour. Those who oppose free trade in order to “save” jobs are just as mistaken as the Luddites of two centuries ago who smashed weaving machines in northern England for the same reason.