Op-Ed: Trade authority creates jobs, growth for nation and state

April 26, 2015
Weekly Column and Op-Ed
By Rep. Dan Newhouse - Published in the Yakima Herald-Republic April 26, 2015

Businesses, farmers and agricultural producers in Washington state are renown for producing high-quality manufactured goods, services, and agricultural products. Washington increasingly plays the role of ‘international supermarket’ for customers in fast-growing nations on the Pacific Rim, creating jobs and economic growth here at home. Not only does Washington’s competitive export economy rely on a steady supply chain in order to meet international demand and demonstrate reliability as a consistent trading partner, but the future of the state’s trade economy depends on creating a level playing field with overseas competitors. As one of the most trade-supported states in the country, Washington’s economy is poised to benefit from approval of trade promotion legislation currently being debated in Congress.

Washington’s engagement in global trade has an enormous, positive impact on the state’s economy: according to a recent study, 40 percent of jobs in the state are tied to international trade. As one of the world’s foremost agricultural regions, Central Washington produces an incredible variety of crops, including potatoes, hay, wheat and more than 300 specialty crops such as cherries, hops, apples, mint and wine grapes. Washington fruit and hay producers export one-third of their harvests to international customers. Expanding Asian economies provide an important market for our state’s diverse array of products. Last year, Washington exported $8.9 billion in agricultural goods, a significant portion of the state’s total value of $90 billion in exported products and services.

Congress is debating legislation that would authorize trade promotion authority (TPA), which allows Congress to set standards for the president to negotiate the best possible trade agreements. This legislation ensures such an agreement will be debated and approved or rejected by Congress. Approval of TPA will strengthen the U.S. position in negotiating the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), which would establish a trade agreement between the United States and 11 other countries in the Asia-Pacific region, including crucial markets such as Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, and Mexico. The Trans-Pacific Partnership region counts for 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

The population of the Asia-Pacific middle class is expected to reach 1.2 billion by 2020, comprising half of the world’s middle-class consumers. Washington is well-positioned to sell products to this growing market, and American agricultural producers and businesses cannot afford to miss the opportunity to strengthen trading ties.

This year, many farmers, manufacturers and retailers in Washington are still dealing with the loss of market share, the loss of export sales and delayed production from the recent months-long slowdown at West Coast ports due to a labor dispute. I saw firsthand the devastation caused by the slowdown at the ports, from apple processors in Yakima where inventory was stacked to the ceiling with nowhere to go, to the impact on potato growers and manufacturers unable to ship their finished products. I worked with my colleagues in Congress to urge the president to negotiate an end to the slowdown. The damaging incident underscores the importance of expanding access to international markets to grow our region’s commerce and support jobs and economic opportunity.

Effectively-negotiated trade treaties have the potential to help recapture recently-lost market share over time by reducing trade barriers and opening markets. Approval of TPA will allow effective negotiation of high-standard trade deals that can boost jobs and our economy. American producers just need a level playing field, less obstructed by tariffs and barriers, to sell the highest quality products to international markets. Congress should approve TPA to strengthen America’s hand in trade negotiations and better position our economy to engage in the global market.

Congressman Dan Newhouse, R-Wash., of Sunnyside represents Washington’s 4th District.