Over the last five years, proponents and opponents of the Trans-Pacific Partnership regional free trade agreement have shared one disadvantage: No one knew what the final agreement would contain. Would it be a high-standard, 21st-century agreement that levels the playing field, or something that represents a step backward on issues that U.S. citizens hold most dear?
The good news is that after the recent announcement of the conclusion of negotiations between the United States and eleven Asia Pacific nations, early reports indicate that the historic deal is something that all of us in Washington state should be able to celebrate. Despite all the false information and fabricated scare stories out there, the TPP would not only eliminate more than 18,000 different taxes on American-made exports, but would also create the strongest worker and environmental protections of any trade agreement in history, help small businesses benefit from global trade, and — for the first time in any U.S. trade agreement — include commitments to promote sustainable development, reduce poverty, promote food security, and combat child and forced labor.
For the first time, countries such as Malaysia and Vietnam will have to allow labor unions to form and collectively bargain. They will be required to meet the International Labor Organization’s core labor standards, which include a minimum wage and requirements for safe working conditions. All members of the trade pact will also have to live up to strong environmental standards that cut down on ozone-depleting substances, combat wildlife trafficking, illegal logging and fishing, and crack down on ocean pollution. These labor and environmental standards are not just wishful thinking; they are fully enforceable, meaning if a country doesn’t measure up, they will face retaliatory tariffs. This is great not only for the hundreds of millions of people who will work under better conditions, and for the communities and species vulnerable to environmental degradation, but also for U.S. workers who will compete on a more level playing field.
The TPP is also good news for our manufacturers because it will eliminate every single tariff on American-made manufactured goods. Without the TPP, those tariffs can reach 59 percent, essentially blocking U.S. manufacturers from selling their products. Given that manufactured goods, including aerospace products, are Washington’s largest export, this would give our manufacturers a big boost and create local jobs.
Our technology companies will benefit from the TPP’s cutting-edge rules to protect and promote a free and open Internet and e-commerce. The agreement allows free flows of data by barring governments from requiring U.S. companies locate their servers in that country. Additionally, it will knock out the tariffs that reach as high as 35 percent on U.S. information &communication technology exports.
The TPP is about so much more than reducing tariffs; it is about fundamentally improving the way the world trades. By establishing a framework that reflects U.S. interests and values, rule of law, good governance, and high labor and environmental standards, we are setting a precedent for high-standard trade that will boost global economic growth and improve quality of life for generations to come.
We need our members of Congress to stand in strong support of this trade deal. The alternative — accepting the status quo and sitting idle while our competitors establish trade pacts with lower standards that disadvantage us — would be short-sighted and detrimental to our state and nation. Without the high standards set forth in the TPP, we will continue to see a race to the bottom instead of to the top.
The Washington Council on International Trade is working with a network of business associations, ports, chambers of commerce, companies and farms across Washington state to urge our lawmakers to vote in favor of the TPP and to strengthen grass-roots support. We urge you to join us in sharing your support for this agreement with your members of Congress. We can’t let this opportunity to benefit our workers and employers us pass by.
Eric Schinfeld is president of the Washington Council on International Trade.