Trade pact vital to Washington workers and, businesses

In the progressive Puget Sound region, our shared values center around commitments to protect the environment and human health, support workers, safeguard human rights and improve quality of life. Yet many of us fail to realize that one of the best ways to achieve these goals is by negotiating new, high-standard free trade agreements.

Countries around the world want access to the U.S. economy because of our large middle class and thriving consumer base. President Obama has been championing the opportunity to use this “carrot” of increased access to our markets as a way to promote U.S. values across the world.

The first step to ensuring trade really works in our favor is passage of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which is currently under consideration in Congress. Through TPA, Congress sets high standards for what our nation’s trade agreements need to include, and then gives them first and last say on whether the agreement meets those criteria. The Senate will vote this week to consider a strong TPA bill that requires stringent labor and environmental standards, promotes human right, increases transparency for our trade negotiations and protects U.S. sovereignty.

Only agreements that meet all these requirements will be given a vote in Congress.

Next, the president will bring to Congress his Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which is currently being negotiated between the U.S. and 11 Asia-Pacific nations. Obama has stated his goal to create the most progressive trade deal in history. The draft TPP includes groundbreaking commitments to protect oceans, wildlife, forests and fisheries and to prevent trafficking and labor abuses.

For this reason, multiple environmental and animal rights groups, including the Humane Society and the Nature Conservancy, have come out in support of TPP’s environmental and wildlife provisions. Contrary to opponents’ claims, nothing in the TPP will prevent countries, states or local governments from regulating in the interest of public health or safety.

Of course, the reason that many Washington state residents support trade is that it also is an incredible driver of local job creation and economic growth. The U.S. needs trade agreements that address 21st-century economic issues if our employers are to maintain and grow their international sales.

U.S. employers are facing increasingly tough global competition, and discriminatory trade barriers in other countries can make it difficult to sell their products and services in foreign markets. Yet, with 95 percent of the world’s customers outside the United States, it’s crucial that our businesses have the ability to succeed in the global economy.

Trade agreements offer the best tool to open those markets and dismantle barriers like high tariffs or discriminatory regulations that keep out U.S. exporters. And U.S. exporters are at a serious disadvantage in today’s global economy: They rank 130th out of 138 for “highest tariffs faced,” meaning they face higher tariffs than almost any of our global competitors. On the other hand, imports from other countries flow easily into the U.S. with virtually no barriers. Trade agreements can fix this imbalance.

Past trade agreements have been successful in increasing U.S. exports and reducing the deficit; our country has an aggregate trade surplus with our 20 free trade agreement (FTA) partners, especially in manufacturing, agriculture and services. While our FTA partners only make up 10 percent of the global economy, they buy a whopping 50 percent of U.S. exports.

In Washington state, where 40 percent of jobs are tied to trade, improved trade opportunities are particularly important. Trade is the largest driver of our economy, and added well over $100 billion to our state’s economy last year.

We cannot afford to do nothing while the rest of the world moves forward with free trade agreements that exclude us. If the U.S. sits on the sidelines, our competitors will write global trade rules that disadvantage us and don’t reflect our country’s values. We cannot let this happen. The state of our national security, economy and environment are too important.

We urge South Sound residents to share their support of TPA with Reps. Adam Smith, Derek Kilmer and Denny Heck, letting them know that their constituents want policies that both promote American values and give Washington state employers a growing platform for success.

Jeff Hohman is the president of Northwest Door, a garage door manufacturer in Puyallup. Eric Schinfeld is president of the Washington Council on International Trade, an organization that advocates for Washington state’s international competitiveness.