Pending Trade Pacts Will Continue the Downward Trends in Number and Quality of U.S. Jobs

Pending U.S. – South Korea Trade Agreement

“Most strikingly, KORUS will open Korea’s service market to U.S. exports, allowing the United States to exploit its competitive advantages in financial services, education and information and communications technologies.

The agreement also will lead to increased imports from Korea, which in turn will help the United States achieve greater economic specialization. The likely effects of more specialization—and of increased Korean investment in the United States—include greater U.S. efficiency, productivity, economic growth and job growth. Meanwhile, U.S. investors will gain new opportunities in the increasingly active Asia-Pacific region.

KORUS supports market access for U.S. investors with investment protection provisions, strong intellectual property protection, dispute settlement provisions, a requirement for transparently developed and implemented investment regulations and a similar requirement for open, fair and impartial judicial proceedings.”

Pending U.S. – Columbia Trade Agreement

“COL-US improves the investment climate in Colombia by providing investor protections, access to international arbitration and improved transparency in the country’s legislative and regulatory processes. These provisions will reduce investment risk and uncertainty.

With considerable investments, Colombia would be able to compete with East Asia for these higher quality jobs, swaying people away from black markets and other illicit activities.”

Pending U.S. – Panama Trade Agreement

“Panama’s $21 billion services market for U.S. firms offering portfolio management, insurance, telecommunications, computer, distribution, express delivery, energy, environmental, legal and other professional services.

A fair legal framework, investor protections and a dispute settlement mechanism, all features of the PFTA, are almost certain to increase U.S. investments in Panama.”

All quotes from Mauricio Cárdenas and Joshua Meltzer, Korea, Colombia, Panama: Pending Trade Accords Offer Economic and Strategic Gains for the United States, Policy Brief Series, # 183, The Brookings Institution, July 2011.


About improved investment climates.  These agreements add three more places in the world where U.S. corporations can invest with confidence.  U.S. banks, mutual funds, and other financial institutions will find it easier to use the money in our savings accounts and retirement funds to expand economic activities and create jobs outside the U.S.

By some estimates, U.S. corporations are sitting on about $2 trillion in cash and banks have returned to profitability, so a lot of money is sitting idle, waiting for profitable investment opportunities.  Economists have noted that there is considerable evidence that the growth of consumer demand is too anemic in the U.S. to spur much investment here, so the investment eye is on the emerging markets of the world where real incomes and consumer demand are growing.

About increased access to service sector markets.  The list of U.S. industries that will benefit include industries that are critical to increasing a nations competitive position in the world economy, and thereby nourish economic growth and enterprise profitability.  Thus, expansion of service sector sales will complement U.S. capital investment in South Korea, Columbia, and Panama, helping to insure the profitability of both U.S. and local investments and thus helping to insure that competitiveness and job growth increase in those nations.

About increased economic specialization in the U.S.  The impact of increased economic specialization on jobs in the U.S. will be a further narrowing of the base of industries and thus a further narrowing of the range of jobs available to U.S. citizens.  This means more workers will have to go through the emotionally painful, family disrupting, and financially costly process of being displaced and retrained for other work because their existing skills are no longer needed.

The record for career displacement and re-employment in a new industry is not good.  Far too many of the new jobs displaced workers end up with pay less and offer lower value in benefits.  Incomes and family welfare decline.

Likely Impact on Global Job Growth. Under existing global conditions of increasing numbers of competing businesses and stalled expansion of global consumer demand, large parts of the new investments to be facilitated by these trade pacts will very likely go into labor saving production, distribution, and management technologies.

Global productivity will increase, so jobs gained in South Korea, Columbia, and Panama will not be greater than the jobs lost in those nations from which South Korea, Columbia, and Panama win market shares.  More likely, the net effect on global employment will be negative.

Likely Impact on U.S. Jobs and Income.  Although jobs will be added in select U.S. industries, and thus in limited parts of the U.S., the net effect will be negative because profitability in sectors of the U.S. economy that have to contend with stronger competition from South Korea, Columbia, and Panama (and all the other nations where U.S. capital is nourishing productivity growth) will decline.  Investment in those sectors will further decline in response, putting more people out of work.

More people competing for work globally and more Americans competing for jobs in the U.S. can only put more downward pressure on U.S. wage and benefit levels.