The West Coast port dispute has apparently ended; relieving congestion on Puget Sound docks will be but one of the challenges ahead for Washington’s trade-dependent economy.
At the state level, the Legislature must adopt a transportation plan that will ease the flow of vehicle and rail traffic throughout Washington. Although the North Spokane Corridor is the critical piece for the Inland Northwest, every part of the state will benefit from elimination of the bottlenecks around the ports.
By a conservative estimate, 40 percent of jobs in Washington depend on trade. If you can’t move goods, you can’t trade. Ask the farmers who lost millions in sales because they could not get trees, apples and hay off the docks.
While labor and management were staring down each other last year, container traffic through British Columbia ports increased. Vancouver is working on a $2 billion expansion of its port.
Congress has a formidable trade agenda ahead, starting with extension of the Export-Import Bank charter. The bank is a genuinely successful government program that finances export sales, turns a profit, and helps sustain 85,000 jobs at 300 Washington companies. Reauthorization used to be routine until the tea party teamed with Delta Airlines to claim the bank was a nest of “crony capitalism” and “corporate welfare.”
Congress passed a nine-month charter extension in September. Two bills containing reforms – a demand of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers – have been proposed, but they face opposition by a key committee chairman.
Speaker John Boehner says a bill will pass. He’s been wrong before.
The other pending measure is Trade Promotion Authority, which allows the president to negotiate trade agreements that Congress can accept or reject, but not amend. Legislative input comes before and during a negotiation, with the expectation lawmaker guidelines will be followed. If not, approval is unlikely.
This front-loading is intended to prevent the unraveling of final agreements by special interests and claims of bad faith by our trading partners.
The case-in-point is the Trans-Pacific Partnership officials from 12 countries have been working on for a decade. The terms would not be public until the pact is completed, prompting accusations of secret dealings from across the political spectrum. But, as the president of the Washington Council on International Trade said, if the United States is not party to trade talks, the labor and environmental protection standards adopted by other nations are lower, which puts U.S. companies at a disadvantage.
Eric Schinfeld, of WCIT, also noted the United States runs a trade surplus with every one of the 20 countries with which it has trade agreements. And if the global response to ongoing economic duress is protectionism, matters will just get worse, as they did during the Great Depression.
Washington thrives in a robust trading environment. By year-end, we need action in Olympia and Washington, D.C., that assures we have one.
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