Take the politics out of trade

International trade has its own architecture. It’s buttressed by good, average and nose-pinching trade agreements with some institutional scaffolding, such as the Export-Import Bank, thrown in.

A few of those supports — the Ex-Im bank, in particular — risk collapse.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Trade Representative, Ambassador Michael Froman, was in town to participate in an agriculture roundtable, tour Boeing, and underscore the importance of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a comprehensive free trade agreement years in the making.

“No state is more oriented to trade than Washington,” Froman told The Herald. In fact, Washington topped out at $81.6 billion in exports this year, a record. The TPP, the centerpiece of the Obama administration’s “pivot” toward Asia, was launched in 2005 during the George W. Bush era. The mission was to have negotiations sewed up by 2012, but sticking points over intellectual property rights and agriculture have triggered delays. For Northwest farmers and the high-tech industry, ensuring that the highest standards are incorporated is worth the extended wait.

The future of the Export-Import Bank is more concerning. Congress has until Sept. 30 to OK re-authorization of the 80-year old institution. What should be a no-brainer — a boost to manufacturers and workers in trade-dependent states like Washington, and a program that doesn’t whack taxpayers — is a political football. In June, freshman U.S. Rep. Denny Heck, D-Olympia, introduced the Protect American Jobs and Exports Act of 2014, which extends the bank’s charter until 2021, and stretches the current cap by $5 billion a year.

“If we abandon this resource, we are allowing China, Russia and European countries to gain ground in export deals previously made with us, the economic equivalent of forfeiting in the World Cup when we know we have the best team,” Heck said in a statement.

Rep. Rick Larsen, D-Everett, who shepherded the bill reauthorizing the bank in 2012 and accompanied Froman on his Boeing tour, noted that, “in my district, the bank supports thousands of jobs at companies of all sizes by helping these businesses sell their products overseas. The bank successfully finances billions of dollars of exports without costing taxpayers a dime.”

Washington’s Congressional delegation is united, with the notable exception of Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, R-Spokane (there’s been significant tea party opposition to Ex-Im, and McMorris Rodgers is part of the House leadership.) On matters of trade — presupposing environmental, labor and other concerns are addressed — bipartisanship is a necessity.

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