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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.

In Our View: Fair Trade Stance is Key

Trans-Pacific Partnership will benefit Washington; candidates’ views matter

The Columbian
Published: May 4, 2016, 6:01am

As Washington’s presidential primary draws closer and the state becomes a focal point for the remaining candidates, the issue of trade is certain to be at the forefront.

That is because Washington is regarded as the most trade-dependent state in the nation. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, $86.3 billion worth of goods that originated in the state were sent outside of the country last year, supporting hundreds of thousands of jobs.

So it is notable when presidential candidates weigh in on the prospect of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, an agreement between the United States and 11 Pacific Rim nations to reduce tariffs on imports while establishing environmental and labor standards. Republican front-runner Donald Trump, for example, has said, “It’s a deal that was designed for China to come in, as they always do, through the back door and totally take advantage of everyone.”

As is his typical modus operandi, Trump has seized upon vitriolic rhetoric that bears only a passing acquaintanceship with the truth. China is not one of the nations included in the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and The Washington Post wrote editorially, “The TPP will, accordingly, bring the United States and Japan closer in a region perennially troubled by their common rival, China.” Or, as Elizabeth Economy wrote for Forbes: “My reflexive answer — and the general consensus in China/Asia think tank circles — is that the TPP is a no-brainer. … Not ratifying the TPP is the equivalent of dealing a death blow to U.S. influence in the region.”

Trump, however, is not the only presidential candidate to oppose the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Bernie Sanders is a staunch opponent of all international trade agreements; Hillary Clinton long ago signaled support for the pact, but since has backtracked; and Ted Cruz has not weighed in, saying only that approval should not be left to a lame-duck Senate in an election year. John Kasich has consistently supported the partnership.

President Barack Obama signed the pact in February, but has yet to present it to Congress. Once he does, lawmakers will have 90 days to approve or reject the deal. As mentioned, this is of particular interest to Washington, with the U.S. Department of Commerce reporting that about 30 percent of the state’s exports go to nations that are part of the trade agreement.

According to polling firm Elway Research, the Trans-Pacific Partnership has strong support in this state. In a poll commissioned by the Washington Council on International Trade, Elway found that 54 percent of respondents support the trade agreement, while 23 percent are opposed and the rest are undecided. The Washington Council on International Trade, it should be noted, is unabashedly pro-trade, but Elway has a strong track record of impartiality. Equally important, the pact found support from both Republicans and Democrats, as well as on both sides of the Cascade Range.

Critics say that the Trans-Pacific Partnership does not do enough to protect American workers, particularly in the manufacturing sector. But this assertion is based largely upon the fallacy that the manufacturing jobs of the past will somehow return to the United States despite a global market that has irrevocably altered the world’s economy.

The bottom line is that fair, open trade is essential for the future of the nation’s economy; you don’t increase prosperity by increasing isolationism. And that should be a consideration as Washington voters weigh in on the presidential race later this month.