The latest polls indicate Democrat Jim Barksdale has an uphill battle against two-term incumbent Republican U.S. Sen. Johnny Isakson in Georgia.
Barksdale, a multi-millionaire businessman, has pounced on an issue where he thinks Isakson is vulnerable -- trade agreements and their connection to lost jobs in the state. In his latest ad, he makes a statement about Isakson’s vote on Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China.
In a recent campaign video, Barksdale said, "Johnny voted for PNTR with China costing Georgia 93,000 jobs."
Isakson, who has been in Congress since 1999, faces Barksdale and Libertarian candidate Allen Buckley in the Nov. 8 general election.
Did Isakson vote for legislation that cost the state jobs? PolitiFact Georgia decided to look into the statement.
We reached out to the candidate’s camps for some background.
Barksdale’s campaign spokesperson Gregory Minchak said the number comes from a 2014 Economic Policy Institute study that found millions of jobs were displaced after the agreement with China, including 93,700 in Georgia.
For some perspective on the state’s relationship with China in recent years, Isakson’s spokesperson Marie Gordon pointed to a 2015 Georgia Department of Economic Development study that says the state’s exports to China totaled $2.6 billion, ranking 12th among Georgia’s top exporter nations. The state’s imports from China totaled $19.7 billion, making China 7th among Georgia’s top importer nations. It may be important to note Georgia has a Republican governor and legislature, and Gov. Nathan Deal has made multiple trips to the country as governor.
Permanent Normal Trade Relations (PNTR) with China have been in effect since 2000, when President Bill Clinton signed a bill normalizing relations into law. Trade conditions with China previously had to be renewed on an annual basis.
Isakson was first elected as a representative to Congress in 1999. He voted for the bill to normalize trade with China in May 2000, and it was signed into law by Clinton in October 2000.
Isakson is also in favor of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade agreement to reduce barriers to trade in Pacific Rim countries while curbing China’s influence in the area. The agreement still needs to be passed by Congress.
Barksdale says later in the ad he will not vote for "bad" trade deals and is opposed to corporate tax breaks. Throughout the campaign, the investment manager has channeled the anti-establishment nature of Sen. Bernie Sanders more than that of presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.
Isakson’s counterattack ads have called Barksdale a hypocrite, and said his fortune comes from companies that outsource jobs to China.
Since then, the strongest effort to scale back trade with China came in 2005 (the year Isakson entered the Senate) when then-Rep. Sanders led an effort to repeal the bill due to jobs being lost overseas.
The 2014 study from the liberal-leaning Economic Policy Institute found "3.2 million jobs were lost or displaced" by trade with China between 2001 and 2013. Georgia lost 93,700 jobs, putting the state at number ten for jobs lost in the country. The report concludes, "Since China entered the World Trade Organization in 2001, the massive growth of trade between China and the United States has had a dramatic and negative effect on U.S." Experts say these are some of the most dismal jobs numbers cited in reference to trade with China.
The U.S. International Trade Commission disputes the EPI’s methodology. Spokesperson Matthew McAlvanah said in an email, "up to half of all U.S. imports are intermediate goods that go into supporting U.S. production (and U.S. jobs). Many other imports are goods we do not produce at all in the United States, which have no impact on U.S. employment."
In short, importing a good does not mean an American job is lost if the good cannot be grown or made in America.
Some studies have found an increase in jobs since the bill’s passage.
Most notably, the Heritage Foundation study citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics numbers refutes the idea that trade with China has led to job loss. It says, "from 1999 to 2011, the U.S. economy added over 3 million net new jobs."
To figure out how these relations work, a 2011 report from the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service sums the situation up well: "U.S. firms that use China as the final point of assembly for their products, or use Chinese-made inputs for production in the United States, are able to lower costs and become more globally competitive... On the other hand, many analysts argue that growing economic ties with China have exposed U.S. manufacturing firms to greater, and what is often perceived to be ‘unfair’ competition from low-cost Chinese firms. They argue that this has induced many U.S. production facilities to relocate to China, resulting in the loss of thousands of U.S. manufacturing jobs."
Additionally, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce has argued in favor of PNTR with China, saying it, "is vital to our national economic prosperity."
Barksdale said his opponent in Georgia’s U.S. Senate race voted for trade legislation "with China costing Georgia 93,000 jobs."
Barksdale is correct that Isakson voted for the bill to normalize trade with China in 2000 and cites a 2014 number that said Georgia lost 93,700 jobs.
One prominent study shows that. But other studies show the state actually gained jobs over the long run. Barksdale cherry picks his studies on this issue to make a point.
We rate his claim Half True.