County Board voices its opposition to TPP

DULUTH — St. Louis County commissioners on Tuesday solidified their opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) Agreement.

Commissioner Tom Rukavina of Pike Township brought the resolution forward after State Rep. Jason Metsa addressed the board earlier in the year on the TPP’s affect on local business and industry, which was unanimously approved, 6-0. Commissioner Frank Jewell of Duluth was absent and not voting.

The county called on Minnesota’s Congressional delegation to oppose the TPP and other trade deals that promote business with low-wage countries, and would cost American workers reduced wages and lost jobs.

Eighth District Rep. Rick Nolan voiced opposition to the deal, calling it a “terrible, job-killing public policy.”

Rukavina cited the county’s poverty rate (16.4 percent) and unemployment rates across the Range from mining layoffs due to cheaply imported steel.

Minnesota has an overall unemployment rate of 3.7 percent as of October 2015, but locally Hibbing (8.7 percent) and Virginia (6.5 percent) fell below the statewide average.

“We can’t let the steel industry go down because we can’t start it up overnight,” Rukavina said in a telephone interview. “There’s not a politician in Washington, D.C. that would let the agriculture industry go to hell.”

Commissioner Keith Nelson of Fayal Township tweaked the resolution from its original draft to make zero in on its relevance to St. Louis County.

Similar resolutions have been drawn up in other steel-producing states, which prompted Metsa to approach Rukavina.

Rukavina said the resolution has added importance with White House Chief of Staff Denis McDonough visiting the Range on Tuesday, and it sends a signal that the county and region don’t support the TPP.

“Our manufacturing industry has gone downhill,” he said. “What kind of country would watch its domestic product disappear like this?”

Commissioners listed five stakes a trade agreement needs to have to gain their support:

• Exclude provisions that favor foreign companies over domestic ones

• Ensure that other countries cannot undercut U.S. producers with weaker labor and environmental laws and enforcement

• Ensure the U.S. will engage in enforcement of trade, labor and environmental rules

• Include strong “rule of origin” language to promote economic growth and job creation in the U.S.

• Promote high standards of workplace, product and natural resource protection

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