The White House has just released a set of facts sheets on a trade package that would include the three free trade deals negotiated by the Bush Administration, with Colombia, South Korea and Panama, along with a renewal of trade adjustment assistance for displaced workers. Press Secretary Jay Carney released this statement:

President Obama has fought for an ambitious trade agenda that doubles exports in five years, levels the playing field for American workers, and reflects American values. As part of that agenda, he has fought for Trade Adjustment Assistance for those American workers who lose their jobs due to increased imports or outsourcing. As a result of extensive negotiations, we now have an agreement on the underlying terms for a meaningful renewal of a strengthened TAA. The President embraces these critical elements of TAA needed to ensure that workers have the best opportunity to get good jobs that keep them in the middle class. Now it is time to move forward with TAA and with the Korea, Colombia, and Panama trade agreements, which will support tens of thousands of jobs.

It’s kind of fitting that a series of corporate-friendly trade deals purporting to create jobs has been combined with TAA, which helps workers who lose their jobs… due to corporate-friendly trade deals. Why else would you need TAA, if not for these new trade deals or the ones like NAFTA and CAFTA which they mirror?

Here are some highlights from the fact sheets. The one on trade adjustment assistance says that the new deal will renew the eligibility expansions put in place in 2009, as well as access to “income support” (I guess an extra unemployment program for eligibles) and a health insurance tax credit. The agreement would apply retroactively, impacting those who lost TAA after it expired in February. There’s still no sense of how much this renewal will cost and whether the funding will have to be offset.

Here are the fact sheets for the trade agreements with South Korea, Panama and Colombia. The Action Plan on worker’s rights in Colombia is still mentioned in the fact sheet, though there’s a belief that Republicans will not actually include the action plan in the legislation. This has caused ranking Democrat on the Ways and Means Committee, Sander Levin, to reject the agreement.

Public Citizen’s Lori Wallach, who follows trade issues closely, excoriated the deal:

For most Americans, what’s newsworthy is not that the administration is pushing Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA), which effectively is a job burial insurance program, but that pushing a deal on TAA is being used as political cover to move more NAFTA-style trade agreements that will kill more American jobs in the first place, especially given our high unemployment rates […]

The point that’s gotten lost in all this wrangling over TAA is that the three leftover Bush trade deals are bad in and of themselves. Even an official government study finds that the Korea deal will increase our trade deficit, and we know up front that it will kill jobs and undermine our national security. The Colombia deal will eliminate any leverage the U.S. has to combat the forced displacements and murders of unionists, Afro-Colombians, human rights defenders and others – problems that have gotten worse since this deal was signed in 2007. The Panama deal will make it harder for the U.S. government to penalize tax-dodging multinational corporations. The supplemental deal on autos for Korea, the labor “Action Plan” for Colombia, and the tax information exchange agreement for Panama are all toothless and do nothing to alleviate the aforementioned problems, as Public Citizen has extensively documented. They were all part of a political-cover kabuki dance.

The deals don’t have meaningful differences from major free trade agreements like NAFTA, which have led to an overall loss of American jobs, says Wallach. They also allow for an enforcement system that circumvents the US judiciary. These are relatively small deals, but in this job environment, they could have a negative impact without much in the way of reward.

This will be a moment of truth for groups like organized labor, which earlier this month vowed to fight these deals.

David Dayen

David Dayen