As the co-founder of a North Carolina textile business that has been operating since the late ’70s, I’ve seen plenty of good and bad times in our state’s economy. I’ve also seen firsthand the way international trade deals have transformed our business and the domestic apparel industry for the worse.
As Congress gears up to debate whether to grant “fast track” authority to move the massive new Trans-Pacific Partnership forward, it is crucial that lawmakers learn from the mistakes of the past and reject this dangerous deal.
I started my textile business in the late 1970s, and for almost two decades, we worked hard to build a successful contract screen-printing business catering to a lot of the major brands. We hired more people and were able to support our local economy. But NAFTA changed all that.
Within two years of that trade deal being passed, our company went from over 100 employees to just 14, as the brand we’d been working with shipped jobs to Mexico, where our competitors were not held to the same environmental or social standards that we were. We were competing on an unlevel playing field, and it was devastating to us. Today, over 98 percent of the apparel Americans buy is made overseas.
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And it wasn’t just my business that suffered. Since NAFTA’s passage, we’ve lost over 350,000 manufacturing jobs in North Carolina alone, with similar effects being felt across the country. Even if your company doesn’t shed jobs, every job lost elsewhere is a potential lost customer for your business.
That’s why national and state business organizations like the American Sustainable Business Council and the North Carolina Business Council are against fast track for the TPP.
Before NAFTA was passed, we were told it would open up markets,
create customers and boost output. We heard big promises about how social and environmental concerns would be addressed in the deal. There have been other trade deals since then, and each time we hear the same promises.
“This time will be different,” they say. “This time, we’ll put safeguards in place. This time, we’ll learn from what didn’t work in past trade deals.”
Yet when I examine the outcomes of those trade deals, and the effects they’ve had on my business, my industry and my state, they all look the same – they have further eroded the ability of small businesses like mine to compete in the new marketplace.
Why should we listen to backers of the TPP? It’s a trade deal that, because it covers about 40 percent of the global economy, is essentially NAFTA on steroids. Why should we trust them without being able even to see the agreement in the first place?
Speaking from over three decades of experiences, I know that global trade deals like the TPP benefit only a few and hurt a whole lot more. I don’t have any problem with global competition, but as a small-business owner I want to know that we will have a chance to compete on a fair playing field.
I hope North Carolina’s Rep. David Price will join the effort to oppose the TPP. At a minimum, Price should oppose “fast track” authority – which would cede Congress’ authority to make changes to the underlying TPP. Fast tracking this agreement without having open negotiations, or even having the final trade text made publicly available, is nothing short of irresponsible and would do a disservice to business owners like me across this country. Unlike proponents of the TPP, you don’t have to take my word for it.
Eric Henry is the president of TS Designs, an apparel manufacturing business based in in Burlington.