Washington Exporters Renew Push To Expand Global Trade, Via TPP

Washington employers are pushing for Congress to approve the Trans-Pacific Partnership, which they say will open up foreign market access. Seen here: Terminal 18 in Seattle. Photo: waexports.com.

Prospects for the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) between the U.S. and 11 other nations remain uncertain. According to The Hill, Congress is unlikely to consider it this fall during their lame-duck session following the November 8 general election. However, President Barack Obama pledges to engineer a TPP vote then.

Signatory Nations Renew Commitment to TPP

Meanwhile business groups across the country and in Washington state continue to lobby for a fall vote on the measure, and the 12 Asia-Pacific signatory nations announced this week in Tokyo, at the residence of U.S. Ambassador to Japan Caroline Kennedy, that they will stand by the pact as drafted and press for internal political approvals.

The trade agreement would have a significant impact for Washington, one of the most trade-dependent states in the country, by cutting 18,000 taxes levied on U.S. exports. About 40 percent of Washington jobs are directly or indirectly tied to trade. Aerospace is the largest single category of exports in the state.

A Boost To The Washington Economy

A recent study by the Association of Washington Business (AWB) found that TPP economic benefits to Washington would include $8.7 billion a year in new state exports, raising the annual state total to $121.6 billion. It would also add anywhere from 5,900 to 26,400 additional jobs statewide.

In 2015 alone, Washington exports to TPP countries alone amounted to $25.4 billion in products and around $5.6 billion in services, according to the AWB report. The 11 TPP countries in addition to the U.S. are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.

TPP, Global Trade Faring Well In Polls

TPP has been a lightning rod during the Presidential campaign. It is opposed by both Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and GOP nominee Donald Trump, and has drawn vocal grassroots opposition, which in turn has made Congress skittish about a vote even after the elections.

Yet despite its “third rail” political status, TPP is polling relatively well. In an August poll conducted by Morning Consult, 35 percent of respondents favored TPP, 22 percent were opposed, and 43 percent said they did not know or had no opinion.

According to an April opinion poll by Elway Research of Washington state voters, 54 percent supported TPP, while 23 percent were opposed. The margin of support was about the same for both Republicans and Democrats.

A new poll from the Chicago Council on Global Affairs found that 65 percent of Americans believe free trade is beneficial to the US economy and consumers.

The importance of free trade to Washington employers was the topic of a podcast last week hosted by Mary Strow of the Washington Research Council (WRC), and featuring Jon DeVaney, president of the Washington State Tree Fruit Association.

DeVaney told Strow that apples are the number one commodity in the state, and one third of them are exported. The Washington apple industry provides 40,000 jobs.

Trade Pacts ‘All Upside’ For Washington Exporters

DeVaney said, “when we talk about trade agreements and gaining access to foreign markets, it’s really all upside for our exporters. It’s leveling the playing field for our producers who are right now seeing the U.S. market being open to foreign competitors, but we might not be able to access those foreign markets as fairly.”

Trade agreements create consistent, across-the-board rules and standards, rather than different policies depending on the country, and provide future market access certainty to those countries, he added.

“What people often forget is that there are other countries that grow apples too,” DeVaney said. “We do have to maintain some range of financial competitiveness relative to those other products.”

Washington Employers Urge Congress To Vote

In a September 7 letter to the Washington congressional delegation, 74 state-based employers called for a “yes” vote on TPP. Signatories included major employers such as Microsoft and Amazon, and smaller businesses.

In a related statement issued by the Washington Council on International Trade (WCIT), Commercial Creamery President Mike Gilmartin said, “The best growth opportunities in our business today are coming from Asia. The TPP will address the problem of high tariffs, but perhaps more importantly, it will standardize the myriad food regulations we face in different countries. This will really help us compete.”

The Spokane-based company exports its products to 30 countries.

Northwest Door President Jeff Hohman said in the statement that “we face barriers in other countries that limit our ability to grow our global sales…The TPP would help to eliminate those barriers – for instance it eliminates every tariff on U.S. manufactured products – so that we can reach more potential.”

Said Stemilt Growers Owner West Mathison, “We feel TPP will directly benefit rural family farms as we expand markets and reduce trade barriers.”

In the WRC podcast, Strow remarked that those opposed to “crony capitalism,” in which government sets regulations to favor some companies over others, should equally oppose protectionist policies in foreign markets which use tariffs to shield some domestic industries from global competition.

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