A trade deal that works for all

The trick in negotiating a trade agreement with 11 other Pacific Rim nations is in securing the economic benefits of opening up trade with those countries while at the same time not weakening the environmental, labor and other laws we depend upon at home.

Negotiations continue on the Trans-Pacific Partnership with Canada, Australia, Brunei Darussalam, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore and Vietnam. China isn’t a part of these negotiations, but the TPP could serve as a framework for future talks with it.

The TPP agreement, and others that could follow, are important to Washington because of our status as one of the nation’s top exporters. U.S. Trade Representative Michael Froman has said Washington stands to benefit from TPP more than any other state. According to the state Department of Commerce, the state is the largest exporter on a per capita basis; 1 job in 3 is tied, directly or indirectly, to trade; and exports account for 30 percent of the jobs created in the last 30 years. The state exported $81.6 billion in products and services in 2013, some of that Boeing airliners, of course, but also apples, wheat, timber and even mink fur skins. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, by eliminating tariffs and other barriers to trade, will expand free trade with current partners and open new markets to the state’s industries and agricultural producers.

Prior to the completion of the TPP talks, the Obama administration is seeking Trade Promotion Authority — also called fast-track authority — from Congress so it can conclude negotiations.

Some have faulted the White House in its TPP negotiations for a lack of transparency regarding details of the trade proposals. Except for some leaked portions, the proposals are not available to the public. Members of Congress, including 1st District Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Wash., are allowed to view proposals and counter-proposals, but the documents are only available in the Washington, D.C., Office of the U.S. Trade Representative.

It might seem like a bad idea to give the president authority to approve a trade agreement before the details have been made public. Some have objected to fast-track authority because it asks Congress to give its approval before negotiations have concluded and details of the agreement has been announced. But DelBene, who advises Obama as part of his Export Council, and others hold that the reason to approve Trade Promotion Authority, while negotiations are ongoing, is to set forth the conditions that such an agreement will have to meet before it’s approved — or not — by Congress and the president.

This is not to say that there aren’t things in the draft language of the TPP that Congress ought to make clear are not acceptable. Leaked details of the draft show, for example, that pharmaceutical companies have sought to limit developing nations’ ability to make generic drugs. Others have raised concerns that trade tribunals could circumvent U.S. courts regarding state and local laws.

DelBene expects the Senate to take the lead on drafting that language for fast-track authority, work that for starters is in the bipartisan hands of Sens. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, and Ron Wyden, D-Oregon.

Congress should grant the Obama administration the fast-track authority it seeks, certainly for the jobs it will support now and add in the future, but also because it’s Congress’ best opportunity to set the conditions for the trade agreement to protect businesses, labor rights, the environment and self-government.

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