Give Obama fast-track authority in Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations

Congress should act quickly to enact the Trans Pacific Partnership and put Washington, and the rest of the nation, in a position to benefit from international trade.

 

By Seattle Times editorial board, April 21, 2015, The Seattle Times

TWO out of five Washington workers have a job related to international trade. As more countries enter the global marketplace, Washington has much to gain — or lose — if the United States doesn’t maintain a strong position in trade.

 

That’s just one of many reasons why Congress should grant President Obama “fast-track” authority to negotiate trade agreements known as trade-promotion authority. Congress should swiftly approve a bill introduced last week to do just that.

 

 

The sooner Congress approves fast-track authority, the sooner Obama can finalize the terms of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), an agreement the United States and 11 other Pacific Rim countries have negotiated over the last five years.

 

Opponents argue fast-track authority would allow the president to make secret deals without input from Congress or the general public, in essence putting corporate profits before the American worker.

 

But Congress would have a say: Fast-track authority establishes congressional guidelines for how the administration should negotiate complex agreements. Congress can then vote the agreement up or down. The nation only needs one body, the administration, to sit at the negotiating table with other countries. Few, if any, deals would ever be signed if every nation included their executive and legislative bodies in trade negotiations.

 

The United States must remain a top influencer in global trade and TPP is one way to do that. The proposal is shaping up to align larger economies like those of the United States and Japan with smaller economies in a position to better compete with China. The 12 nations in TPP make up about 40 percent of the world’s gross domestic product.

In Washington, expanding trade means more goods coming in and out of the ports of Seattle and Tacoma and thousands of well-paying jobs. The value of Washington exports — ranging from apples and hops to airplanes and software — shot up 40 percent during the last four years to $90.6 billion in 2014.

 

TPP includes standards protecting the environment and labor, and covers areas as diverse as development, energy use, transparency, accountability and intellectual property. The deal provides incentives to other countries with looser regulations to raise their standards as “the price of admission” to the U.S. market, said Daniel Russel, assistant secretary for East Asian and Pacific Affairs in the U.S. State Department, during a recent visit to Seattle.

 

In any trade deal, there will be winners and losers, said Debra Glassman, an international-trade expert and professor at the University of Washington. Some jobs go away while others are created.

 

The question is whether the United States will be able to dictate which industries and jobs remain competitive on its soil. The United States must look for ways to maximize trade deals with other countries.

 

 

Congressional leaders should act soon to give the president fast-track authority and take advantage of the opportunity TPP presents.

 

Editorial board members are editorial page editor Kate Riley, Frank A. Blethen, Ryan Blethen, Mark Higgins, Jonathan Martin, Thanh Tan, Blanca Torres, William K. Blethen (emeritus) and Robert C. Blethen (emeritus).

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