With a few glaring exceptions, most of Washington’s congressional delegation was on the right side of recent votes giving President Obama so-called “fast-track” trade authority. In some cases that meant standing up to some of the more vocal elements in their parties.
Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell, as well as South Sound Reps. Derek Kilmer and Dave Reichert, were among nine of the state’s 12 members of Congress who voted in favor of Trade Promotion Authority legislation. That’s important to trade-dependent Washington because it gives the president and his successor the ability to more nimbly negotiate free-trade agreements and submit them to Congress for quick, up-or-down majority votes without amendments.
Fast-track authority will be needed to push through the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a treaty being negotiated among 12 Pacific Rim countries, perhaps as early as later this year.
The TPP promises to open up new foreign markets for this state’s farmers and manufacturers by lowering trade barriers that now make it hard to export to some countries. It would also offer greater protection for American intellectual property and serve as a check on China, which is negotiating its own regional trade deal.
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South Sound holdouts voting against the trade authority legislation were Democratic Reps. Adam Smith of Bellevue and Denny Heck of Olympia. Both likely felt pressure from labor and the liberal wing of their party, which have fought free-trade agreements for years.
Those groups argue that free-trade agreements have cost American jobs and not afforded enough protection for foreign workers and the environment. Republicans supporting fast-track resisted the tea party faction of their party that essentially opposes giving Obama anything he wants.
Fortunately, enough members of Congress were able to see through the partisan and protectionist roadblocks and support legislation vital to expanding U.S. markets and influence abroad.
As with any trade agreement, the TPP likely will have winners and losers. Washington — where 40 percent of jobs are linked in some way to foreign trade and that took in $100 billion last year due to trade — should win.
It’s true that TPP could cost some workers their jobs. That’s why another piece of legislation that Congress approved, Trade Adjustment Assistance, is vital. It provides $450 million in aid to U.S. workers who lose their jobs due to international trade pacts.
Globalization isn’t going away, and the United States accomplishes nothing by sitting on the sidelines. It’s to our economic benefit to help craft high-standard free-trade pacts like the TPP.