American voters have seen a steady loss in the quantity and the quality of manufacturing jobs and they need concrete assurance that they will see the return of those or the creation of equivalent jobs before they will find the political will to support free trade agreements, former Secretary of Agriculture Dan Glickman told The North American Agricultural Journalists attending this year's spring meeting in Washington, D.C. in April.
Glickman, who is now Executive Director of Aspen Institute Congressional Program, served as Secretary of Agriculture from 1995 to 2001 in the Clinton administration. He said he recognizes the need for free trade agreements and understands their benefit to the long-range American economy and supports the Trans Pacific Partnership.
"I think if the U.S. fails to pass the TPP, it strengthens the Canadian position as a trade competitor. And if we back out at this point, it looks terrible to the world; it would appear that we are withdrawing from the game," Glickman said. "At the same time I understand that prior trade agreements have hurt manufacturing jobs."
He said he would support immediate programs to address the country's need for massive investment in infrastructure.
"We need to begin to rebuild this country. We need work on our highways, our railroads, our airports, our locks and dams. Doing that will create good jobs here at home and help people believe in opportunity," he said. "Giving American worker reason to hope for their own better future will pave the way for giving them reason to support a better future for others."
He also called for a stronger focus on research and development across the board but especially in agriculture.
That will be essential, he said, to taking advantage of the biggest industry in the U.S. that can receive substantial benefit from free trade agreements -- agriculture.
"There is substantial opportunity for trade in Southeast Asia and sub-Saharan Africa," he said. "Also with Brazil and China. But in the short-term those agreements hurt manufacturing and that has to be addressed."
He said that has been some improvement in infrastructure in Africa but it is still seriously lacking.
"About 70% of Africa's farmers are women," he said. "And there has been a long-time issue with African marketing cooperatives and corruption. That presents a challenge in terms of trade."
He said both China and Brazil have made big investments in research and development and he sees the need for more investment in agriculture research in the U.S. as well.
"If the U.S. is to remain at the top of the world in ag, then we need to up the focus on research," he said. "And we need to keep in mind that research jobs, whether with public universities, private companies or government laboratories are good paying jobs with a good future. It short, they are the kind of jobs that can restore the faith of American workers in the future."