Who's going to police labor standards in other TPP countries -- U.S. government workers? Civil servants in America are going to ensure workplace compliance for American firms operating in Indonesia and Bangladesh? Really? That's already worked so well in China, where a major supplier of Apple Inc. installed suicide nets around employee dormitories after a number of workers jumped to their death.
Whatever President Obama is telling Americans, he can't guarantee a thing in this regard.
International trade and foreign direct investments are positive things -- if done right. Free trade and comprehensive duty-free access should only be conducted between parties that are relatively equal in all respects, and this is virtually impossible to ensure across so many nations with different labor standards. Besides, when a company from a developed nation sets up operations in a foreign country with cheaper labor and lax standards, the cost of doing business should, in fact, include some customs and excise levies.
Granted, foreign direct investments by American companies in Asia are important to offset the ever-increasing influence of China, but that cannot consist entirely of outsourcing American operations abroad. Such operations should complement the domestic workforce, not replace it -- but history suggests that this rarely ends up being the case.
If Obama were truly concerned about America bleeding jobs, he wouldn't be looking to create jobs in Asia, but instead tackling the taxation, red tape and labor issues in the U.S. that render America a less attractive place to do business than some Third World nations.
It's not a question of gutting labor standards in developed nations, but it's hard not to see that the pendulum has swung too far. Unions now exist to justify their own existence. In France, for example -- the Mecca of unions in the developed world -- labor unions at stores such as Sephora and Virgin (now shuttered across France) have made a big deal over late-night (9 p.m. to midnight) work hours, even though the workers themselves were keen to work those hours. Where there are people who are passionate about their jobs and genuinely want to work, unions have stepped in to stop the love-in between employer and employee, and have worked relentlessly to enshrine systemic discrimination against entrepreneurial contractors.
It's these sorts of things that make cheap labor and foreign markets attractive. The focus should be on improving the U.S. regulatory system so that the outsourcing of American jobs to places with appalling labor conditions doesn't look so enticing.