Free trade is working, especially in our state

John Kerry’s selection of North Carolina Sen. John Edwards to be his running mate on the Democratic presidential ticket is filled with potential advantages. Edwards is charismatic, he’s a skilled campaigner, his middle-class upbringing is appealing to many voters and he could force the Bush/Cheney ticket to spend money defending the Southern states.

But while Edwards’ policy differences with Kerry are few, their differences on trade policy could make a difference to voters in this state.

During the primaries, Edwards denounced existing free trade deals as bad for the American worker. That may or may not be true overall, but free trade has been nothing but positive for workers in Washington. Free trade has opened countless markets to this state’s products, from airplanes to software to agriculture. Kerry is less of a protectionist than his running mate, but the selection should spark close scrutiny here.

The Kerry/Edwards ticket must outline its trade policies to Washington voters, and if they include excessive tariffs and protectionism, voters shouldn’t react kindly. If the Democrats expect to win this state, they must make it clear that they don’t plan on putting up walls to international trade.

Washington state’s economy is heavily dependent on international trade, with more than a third of all jobs in the state related to it. Gov. Gary Locke just returned from a trade visit to Mexico, our ports are some of the largest in the Pacific Rim, and the $3.2 billion tax break the state gave Boeing to build the 7E7 here will be wasted if the company can’t sell its airplanes. Our economy can’t afford protectionist policies that reject the global economy.

Bill Clinton knew the value of moderate trade policies, and proved there are ways to navigate free trade without forgetting about American workers. Clinton found success because of his efforts to move Democrats away from protectionism and toward embracing the global economy. A 2004 ticket that wants to make Washington voters happy must do the same.

Our state has made substantial efforts to claim a slice of the global economic pie. Voters here should demand that the presidential candidates respect that.

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