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Does US Need a Free-Trade Deal with Europe?

Free-trade supporters say the U.S. must act quickly to regain its share of global investment. Unfortunately, it has a lot of catching up to do, said Nancy McLernan, president of the Organization for International Investment.

"America’s share of global investment has fallen dramatically," she said. "In 2000, the U.S. attracted 37 percent of the world’s foreign investment. Today, we attract about 19 percent.”

Pending trans-Pacific and trans-Atlantic trade deals could increase foreign investment in the U.S. by $173 billion and, some say, create more than 1.4 million jobs, nearly a third of them in the United States. But at what cost?

At rallies this week in Washington, protesters said new competition would erode wages. Additionally, they said, proposed tribunals would give big companies the right to undermine state and local laws.

Stephen Gottlieb of the Maine Small Business Coalition said the tribunals "will be able to trump all of our labor and environmental laws if they feel that, for instance, public lands are standing in the way of their profits.”

Others say the proposed terms might be worse for the Europeans. Toby Chow, head of National People's Action, a group that advocates for workers and their rights, noted that “in a lot of these European countries, they actually have much stronger worker protections and environmental protections than exist in the U.S.”

But trade is a two-way street. Without a deal, investors will seek opportunities elsewhere, said Pater Fannon, head of Panasonic’s corporate and government affairs division in North America.

“Panasonic has the opportunity, like other global companies, to invest in those other places," he said. "But if the choices are clear and everyone has an opportunity to freely trade as these agreements would ultimately permit, at reasonable levels and with appropriate safeguards, then there’s no reason why the U.S. can’t draw more of those foreign investment dollars here, including from my company.”

Some of the fiercest criticism of the proposed Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership focuses on the secrecy of negotiations. But Fannon said a fast-track bill, expected to be approved by Congress, would give the public 60 days to review the agreement before the president could sign it into law.