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Sam Reed: Trade and immigration bashing hurts state

Sam Reed

In the words of Thomas Paine, “These are times that try men’s souls.”

Our current trials include terrorism, income disparity, technology replacing industrial workers and globalism. In the midst of this angst, it’s worldwide migration and the negative consequences of international trade that receive much of the blame and political attention.

We’ve seen this manifested in the Brexit vote, our presidential race, the rise of nationalism and opposition to refugees and immigrants.

This concerns me deeply for our state. Washington is the most trade-dependent state in the nation. One out of 2.5 jobs in this state involves trade. Our state also depends heavily on immigrants and foreign guest workers. Pulling back from trade agreements and severely limiting immigration would have a devastating impact on our state’s economy and way of life.

Regarding trade, the impact would be statewide. When we think of international trade, we often think of Boeing, Microsoft, forest products companies, Costco, Starbucks and Amazon. But it’s far more extensive. Our agricultural sector in Eastern and Northwestern Washington exports most of its products overseas. Another example is our seafood industry. In 2014, it produced approximately $3 billion worth of exports. As secretary of state, I traveled regularly throughout our state. I was surprised and impressed that even the smallest communities had businesses involved in international trade.

Washington state has built one of the top trade hubs in the world with 75 public deep-water ports, 139 airports, more than 7,000 miles of highways and 3,600 miles of railways. That’s important, because 95 percent of the world’s customers and the fastest-growing markets are outside U.S. borders. Yet, a recent national poll found that 49 percent of Democrats, 50 percent of independents and 60 percent of Republicans believe that trade agreements are harmful.

That is a big problem for us. For example, since we are on the Pacific Rim, the Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement would be tremendously beneficial. Nationally, it would add $131 billion to American incomes. But, responsive to the public’s anxiety regarding international trade, Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders oppose it and, after supporting it, Clinton now opposes it in its present form.

We need to be deeply concerned.

That’s true for immigration as well. Our high-tech sector depends extensively on immigrants or guest workers. One-third of Microsoft’s employees, for example, are from India. In the agricultural areas, our farmers and orchardists rely on immigrants and guest workers to pick their crops.

More importantly, immigration has recently brought hundreds of thousands of hardworking, family-oriented, entrepreneurially inclined people to our state from throughout the world. For 12 years, I spoke to the Fourth of July naturalization ceremony at Seattle Center. Each time, there were around 500 excited, exuberant new citizens from 80 to 90 countries. These new citizens and their children enrich our state with new ideas, fresh energy and an admirable drive to “make it in America.”

As is the case with international trade, we benefit enormously from immigration and guest workers.

Our future as a state is at stake. I ask you to join with me in encouraging our local, state, federal officials, candidates and party leaders to fight for free and fair trade and immigration reform. It’s clearly in the interest of the state of Washington and of our nation.

Sam Reed served three terms as Washington secretary of state. This commentary first appeared in the Olympian.