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Guest opinion: Pass TPA to boost state’s trade, jobs

Eric Schinfeld And Matt Harris

At least 40 percent of jobs in Washington are tied to trade, making it the single largest driver of our state’s economy. Unfortunately, Congress is jeopardizing our ability to maximize the benefits of our state’s international competitiveness and will until we convince them to act on a little known policy called Trade Promotion Authority (TPA).

Also known as fast-track negotiating authority, TPA is key to our country’s ability to raise the standards of global trade and negotiate new trade partnerships that will level the playing field for Washington businesses in foreign countries. It creates a framework for Congress to provide the president and U.S. trade negotiators with their objectives and requirements for our country’s trade agreements. Without this direction, trade negotiators will not know Congress’ priorities, making it difficult to approve any agreement. TPA ensures agreements that meet all of Congress’ agreed-upon priorities get an up-or-down vote without amendments, which is necessary when dealing with complex trade agreements. Without TPA, no country will want to finalize a partnership with the United States if it could be crippled with amendments.

The U.S. is currently negotiating three major trade agreements: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) with 11 Asia-Pacific countries, the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) with the European Union and the Trade in International Services Agreement (TISA) with select World Trade Organization members. But without TPA, these agreements, which could raise the standards for global trade on issues like labor, the environment and intellectual property protection – and boost the world’s economic output by $600 billion – will have little chance of passing in Congress.

Since trade is the primary engine of Washington’s economy, trade partnerships greatly benefit our state by opening up new markets for Washington goods and services. They increase our capacity to serve as an international gateway for other states and make it easier for Washington employers to import manufacturing inputs or retail products. All these things create jobs for Washington residents. Trade agreements also benefit consumers in Washington by increasing access to a diverse selection of affordable goods and services.

Washington has always been a gateway to the global economy, and we export more than twice as much per capita as the average state. Washington state exported $15 billion of agricultural products in 2013, much of that from east of the Cascade Mountains. For example, the U.S. exported over $1 billion of frozen potato products, and 70 percent of that transited through Washington ports, creating jobs in our state all along the value chain of harvesting, processing, packaging and transportation. And agricultural goods are certainly not the only thing Eastern Washington exports. In 2012, manufacturers in congressional districts four and five (including Spokane, Walla Walla, the Tri-Cities, Pullman and Yakima) exported $2.7 billion worth of product.

Unfortunately, misunderstandings about TPA have caused some members of Congress to hesitate to renew it when it is, in fact, the very tool that would increase the transparency and congressional oversight of trade negotiations. Contrary to the idea that TPA would “fast track” agreements that would lower standards, the recently-introduced TPA bill would raise labor, environmental and intellectual property standards, to name just a few. Future trade partnerships remove unfair and market-distorting practices that put our Washington family farms and small businesses at a global trade disadvantage.

With so much to gain from finalizing these new trade agreements, Congress must act now to pass TPA. Join us in urging Congress to pass TPA without delay.

Eric Schinfeld is the president of the Washington Council on International Trade. Matt Harris is the director of government affairs and assistant executive director at the Washington State Potato Commission.
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