Give trade negotiators vital agreement authority

March 11, 2014 

President Obama has called on Congress to quickly pass Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and new trade deals with Europe and the Asia Pacific. Here in Washington, where 40 percent of jobs are tied to trade, both efforts will strengthen our economy, create jobs and open up more opportunities for our employers in the global marketplace.

Since the 1930s, Congress has given Republican and Democratic presidents alike special authority to negotiate trade deals on behalf of the United States. TPA power was last enacted by Congress in 2002 and lapsed in 2007 — and has languished ever since.

The authority empowers Congress to set key goals for trade agreements so that trade negotiators don’t come back with an agreement that Congress won’t pass or has to amend. This is critical when dealing with complex agreements with many trading partners. In addition, TPA increases transparency of the negotiations by requiring the executive branch to consult extensively with Congress throughout the negotiating process.

Without this authority, trade negotiators and the president will not have the tools they need to complete major international trade agreements that would raise the standard of global trade, level the playing field for Washington companies in foreign countries and create jobs.

It’s impossible to overstate the profound role global commerce plays in Washington. Among all 50 states, we rank fourth in annual exports. Imports play a major role in job creation in our state, too, as a large number of Washington-based retailers from Nordstrom to Costco rely on global supply chains to remain competitive and create jobs. And while big businesses in the state certainly benefit from international trade, 90 percent of our exporters are small- and medium-sized companies with fewer than 500 employees.

The United States is currently negotiating with 11 Asia-Pacific countries on the Trans-Pacific Partnership and with the European Union on the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership. Both agreements would help our state further expand its global reach by opening up new markets for Washington goods and services, increasing our capacity to serve as an international gateway, and making it easier for Washington employers to leverage global supply chains.

By passing TPA, congressional lawmakers can help make sure these agreements move forward. More success in the global marketplace for Washington employers translates into more high-wage jobs in our state, and lower tariffs reduce the cost of living for Washington residents.

Unfortunately, some have pushed against TPA, arguing that it would “fast track” trade agreements that would lower labor, environmental and intellectual property standards. The exact opposite is true. The recently introduced TPA bill seeks to raise these standards and remove unfair and market-distorting practices that put U.S. companies at a disadvantage.

For Washington state, passage of TPA is overdue. It holds too much trade potential for Congress to let it languish any longer.

Eric Schinfeld is president of the Washington Council on International Trade.

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