The United States has lost a staggering 4.5 million manufacturing jobs since the North American Free Trade Agreement was passed in 1994, according to Bureau of Labor Statistics figures.

Now the U.S. has wrapped up negotiations on another major trade partnership, the 12-nation Trans Pacific Partnership.

Unions and business groups fear it could further gut American manufacturing and wipe out more good-paying factory jobs.

"From what we know, the draft TPP threatens the future of production and employment," said Leo Gerard, president of United Steelworkers International. "It compromises the so-called 21st century standards that were supposed to form the foundation for this agreement. It will deal a critical blow to workers and their standard of living in the United States." 

Gerard noted the final text hasn't been made available yet.

"From what we have seen and know, at its core the hastily concluded TPP deal will simply continue today's outdated, disastrous approach to trade," he said.

Gerard said the deal should not even be submitted to Congress, and Congress should reject it if it is.

"You only have to look at the consistently dismal job numbers in manufacturing to understand what every manufacturing worker already knows: We have been on the losing end of trade deals," he said.

Gerard said it appears "misguided foreign policy and global corporate interests have trumped sound economics and the opportunity to get things right."

He said negotiators are trying to push it through Congress before elections next year.

Proponents sell TPP as a way to write the rules of trade in the Pacific Rim before China does, but it would in fact benefit Chinese interests, Gerard said. The deal for instance would give preferential treatment to cars with a majority of Chinese-made auto parts if China decided to join.

"In many other areas critical to workers, U.S. negotiators refused to take the advice that was provided to them time and time again by the representatives of working people," Gerard said. "But while supporters tout the deal, those promises will fall on deaf ears."

At a time when a record amount of steel imports are flooding in, Gerard fears the new trade deal could be catastrophic.

"TPP may be the final blow to manufacturing in America," he said.

He said workers and producers remain "under siege" from overseas "overproduction, foreign currency devaluation, our own lack of long-term infrastructure investment and the strong dollar."

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"Trade policy is not the only issue that determines what the economic prospects will be for working people," he said. "Trade is the critical link to the world economy and global pressures are being felt in virtually every occupation and in every workplace."

Robert Scott, director of trade and manufacturing policy research for the Economic Policy Institute, said the deal would likely depress wages, displace workers and drive up trade deficits.

TPP fails to address issues like currency manipulation and abuse of workers, he said.

The steel industry may especially be at risk, since China has most of the world's excess steel overcapacity.

TPP encourages outsourcing to "low-wage export platforms" like Malaysia and Vietnam, he said. It also creates a way "for dumped and subsidized imports from China" and other nations to enter product into the U.S. at preferential TPP tariff rates or duty free, Scott said.

He said the U.S. could have had a TPP to address "currency manipulation, reduced greenhouse gas emissions, and harmonized financial regulations upwards."

"Instead, the TPP supports a race to the bottom in international regulations that will primarily benefit multinational corporations at the expense of workers and consumers in the United States and other TPP countries," Scott said.

The U.S. Business and Industry Council said the deal fails to serve the interest of American manufacturers and workers. The group said the deal supported "government-managed trade" just for the sake of a presidential legacy.

"The omission of meaningful currency language is not only a deal-breaker, but also an open invitation to Japan, Malaysia and Singapore, among others, to continue to use currency cheating to gain competitive advantage over American companies," Council President Kevin Kearns said.

He said a lack of currency provisions signals to China and other countries "they are 'home free' and can continue to use currency market interventions to boost sales without fear." 

The Organization for International Investment, a pro-free trade group that represents multinational companies, said the deal could result in more global investment in America.

"Given that nearly 20 percent of America's foreign direct investment flows from TPP countries, there is no doubt that today's announcement is an important economic milestone," President and CEO Nancy McLernon said.

McLernon said OII's analysis suggests TPP may unleash $20 billion in investment and add 233,000 American jobs.

"As we review the details of the negotiated agreement, I am hopeful that TPP will help America regain its global competitiveness," McLernon said.


Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.