During the Washington Council on International Trade (WCIT)’s annual Trade Summit, U.S. lawmakers weighed in on how Washington state could maintain its position in an increasingly competitive international trade market.
These leaders suggest the state place a larger emphasis on educating citizens about how trade is connected to the local economy and jobs, as well as preparing Washington’s workforce for the future trade environment.
Held Mar. 26, the WCIT event also hosted trade policy enthusiasts, business leaders and members of academia to discuss emerging issues in trade, as well as best practices for lessening any negative effects on Washington state.
WCIT President Lori Otto Punke told event attendees: “Education on trade is critically important. It’s necessary, but right now it’s not sufficient. Learning is not enough, we also need to be here to engage and to move the needle and to help push the big boulder up the hill to fight for a comprehensive trade policy agenda.
“Now is a critical time to be working on trade: what it means for our economy and what it means for our future.”
She added that international trade deals have been front and center over the past 14 months, with lengthy NAFTA re-negotiations, the U.S. withdrawing from the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), and rumors surfacing that the U.S. might leave the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) or the United States-Korea Free Trade (KORUS) agreement.
This month, President Donald Trump imposed a 25 percent tariff and a 10 percent tariff on steel and aluminum imports, respectively. Although the move would protect larger U.S. businesses, small business owners indicated the change might increase material prices and limit the availability of products.
During the summit, WCIT held a U.S. lawmaker panel to discuss how international trade policies are affecting Washington and how policy makers and businesses can protect the state’s stake in the world market.
U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen of Washington (D-2) said Washington should focus on its domestic policy.
“We need a longer term, national focus on the workforce development for the next generation of workforce to put our workforce in a position to be competitive, because we are not competing with the worker across the street…our focus should be on workers around the world, and we don’t invest in that.”
Washington state lawmakers are already considering how to address the workforce issue statewide. Key recommendations include a greater emphasis of career options in the trades in middle school and beyond, bringing back shop class and increased counselor training and emphasis.
Washington would not have the economy it has today without the state’s trading partners, said U.S. Rep Dan Newhouse of Washington (R-4). Looking to the future, Washington needs to focus on maintaining its gateway to the world market.
“If we can’t attract the container ships to the state of Washington, it’s tough for us to be able to ship our products other places. I really think we need to stay at the forefront of making sure our facilities are as modern and up-to-date and competitive as possible.”
The state should also work to educate its workers and the local community about the importance of trade on Washington’s economy, said U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene of Washington (D-1). She said she spoke with a business owner whose employees were unaware how trade dependent their company was and opposed trade policies that directly benefited their business.
U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer of Washington (D-6) agreed that workers should understand that their jobs are tied to trade and that communities know how they benefit from exports of apples, cherries and wine.
“I think we have to have a broader conversation in this country about everything from workforce development to industrial policy.”
U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert (R-8) closed the discussion by encouraging Washington businesses and residents to think globally, whether it’s tax reform or education.
“You’ve got to educate our young people to be prepared for the economy…in the future…a global economy that is expanding and growing tighter and closer together each and every day.”
Reichert formerly served on President Barack Obama’s Export Council and has served as Chairman of the Ways and Means Subcommittee on Trade since the 114th Congress.
One effective tactic to spread awareness in the workplace is for business owners to include percentages on each pay stub that show how much of an employee’s paycheck is made possible through trade. The state should also consider how its operations influence partners around the world, according to Reichert. He added that he visited Japan and the Japanese were annoyed when Washington’s port management and union leader disagreements caused the port slowdown, which in turn slowed the shipment of French fries from Washington ports to Japan.
“This is a highly critical piece of our economy. If we start to lose market share, it is going to create businesses falling apart and job loss and lower wages,” Reichert said.