But When Has the AFL-CIO EVER Supported Free Trade Agreements?

By August 9, 2010Briefly Legal, Trade

From C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers” interview with Richard Trumka, president of the AFL-CIO:

Victoria McGrane (Dow-Jones): Labor has traditionally been a big opponent of the pending free trade pacts, including the one with South Korea. So how do you square those two, are you willing to work with the Obama Administration? Is there a South Korea trade agreement you could all get behind?

Richard Trumka (AFL-CIO) …Here’s what we’ve said all along. We haven’t been against trade agreements because we’re against trade agreements. We’ve been against trade agreements because they’ve been bad for this country. They haven’t given us a fair shake. Take South Korea, for instance. All of the non-tariff barriers that South Korea has that prevents our products from going into South Korea are preserved by the Bush trade agreements with South Korea. What we’re saying is make that fair. Eliminate those non-tariff barriers so that our products can go into their country as easy as their products can come into our country, and we’ll take a look at it. We’ll help you with those negotiations. If they do, we can support it. If they don’t, of course we’ll oppose it. We will oppose any bill that is one-sided, unfair, and will outsource more American jobs without us having a fair chance to compete, and that’s what that trade bill and the other ones that have been drafted do in their current form.

McGrane: Has the Obama Administration given you any confidence that they’re going to come up with a trade agreement that you can deal with? Their goal is November…

Trumka: They have. Well, they have. They’ve talked about going back and renegotiating it. They’ve asked various groups what they think the problems are with the bill. We’ve outlined to them what we think our problems are. We’ll work with them to try to see that those problems can be solved, and we’ll go from there.

Even acknowledging the point about Korea’s non-tariff barriers, Trumka’s claim to be willing to consider free trade agreements rings hollow. What free trade agreement has the AFL-CIO ever supported?

The U.S.-Colombia Free Trade Agreements poses next to no risk to job loss in the United States, yet the AFL-CIO fights it (relying on bogus claims about trade union activist deaths). Labor even opposed the U.S.-Oman FTA, a pact that poses no danger to U.S. workers. Opposition to FTAs is a matter of faith for most labor unions, and it’s disingenuous for Trumka to pretend otherwise.

Note: Frank Vargo, the NAM’s vice president for international economic affairs, appears on C-SPAN’s “Washington Journal” program at 8:30 a.m. Eastern this morning.

UPDATE: Here’s an .mp3 file of segment above.

Join the discussion 2 Comments

  • jj says:

    If the Colombia Free Trade Agreement were about the flow of products without tariffs then it would be unnecessary. In a past agreement US trade negotiators sold out American workers by eliminating tariffs of products coming into the US while Colombia keep tariffs on American imports. Colombia could unilaterally bring about free trade without any action by the US. So, why the need for an agreement? The text of the Colombia free trade agreement is online at http://www.ustr.gov/trade-agreements/free-trade-agreements/colombia-fta/final-text and it looks more like an outsourcing agreement that a trade in products agreement. This is especially true of chapter 10 Investment.

    The Office of the United States Trade Representative issues an annual report on trade barriers. The Colombia chapter of the “2009 National Trade Estimate Report on Foreign Trade Barriers” is at


    In part this is what it says about Colombian tariffs on US products:

    “Most duties have been consolidated into three tariff levels: 0 percent to 5 percent on capital goods, industrial goods, and raw materials not produced in Colombia; 10 percent on manufactured goods, with some exceptions; and 15 percent to 20 percent on consumer and “sensitive” goods. Exceptions include automobiles, which are subject to a 35 percent tariff, beef and rice subject to an 80 percent duty, milk products subject to a 33 percent tariff and other agricultural products, which fall under a variable “price band” import duty system.”

    With Colombians earning under $10,000 a year it is likely that the only significant increase in exports will be agricultural products especially grains. Agricultural product increases will not bring much in the way of additional jobs here but, as we have seen with NAFTA in Mexico, the will kill a lot of jobs in Colombia. That will, again as we have seen with NAFTA in Mexico, generate significant illegal immigration to the US.

    The Colombia Free Trade Agreement offers Americans only more outsourced jobs and more illegal immigration. A bad deal.

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