Largely by virtue of geography, the state of Washington benefits more than most from international trade.
Of course, desirable products and smart management decisions are important to bolstering the state's export economy, but proximity long has played a role in Washington's relationship with markets along the Pacific Rim. Last year, the state's businesses racked up a record $82 billion in exports.
But while Washington's apples and airplanes are dependent upon foreign markets, they also are dependant upon sound policy from the federal government. That is what drew the U.S. trade representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, to the state last week. Froman took a tour of a Boeing plant and, more important, voiced his support for the Export-Import Bank and the Trans-Pacific Partnership.
The Export-Import Bank is an 80-year-old institution that might be on its last legs. Congress has until Sept. 30 to reauthorize the bank, which has been crucial to the economy of Washington. The Ex-Im Bank helps foreign buyers finance purchases from American companies, which to a large extent means that it helps them afford planes built by Boeing.
The bank costs taxpayers nothing, yet it has come under fire from Tea Party Republicans in Congress who claim it is a form of corporate welfare. Washington's congressional delegation is united in its support for reauthorizing the bank — with the exception of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane, who as part of the House leadership is more concerned with appeasing her party's right wing. In short, opposition to the Export-Import Bank is misguided demagoguery perpetrated by a handful of ideologues. By supporting U.S. businesses as they compete in the global marketplace, the bank is good for the country; by supporting Boeing, it is crucial for Washington.
The Trans-Pacific Partnership presents a more hazy picture. That's because the decade-long negotiations over the pact have been held in secret, meaning supporters might be tempted to say, "We need to pass the partnership so we can see what's in it." Not so fast, although it likely would have a huge impact on Washington.
The TPP is being negotiated among 12 countries throughout the Asia-Pacific region to free up trade among the countries. It would create a tariff-free zone between the nations, a list that includes the United States, Canada, and Japan but is absent China. Overall, the countries involved account for 40 percent of all the goods and services produced around the globe. As The Washington Post explains, "Modern trade agreements … encompass a broad range of regulatory and legal issues, making them a much more central part of foreign policy and even domestic lawmaking."
So, yes, the Trans-Pacific Partnership would be a big deal. While the agreement is still being worked out, it would require Congress to reauthorize President Obama's "trade promotion authority," allowing the administration to unilaterally negotiate trade agreements. Under the Constitution, treaties require the approval of two-thirds of the Senate, but in recent decades Congress has ceded that authority to the president. It is unlikely the TPP could pass the Senate without changes, and any alterations would then have to be brought back to the bargaining table with the other countries.
Meanwhile, there has been much speculation and little information about what the agreement would actually do. But, like the Export-Import Bank, the Trans-Pacific Partnership could play a large role in the future of Washington's economy.