One week ago, the Seattle City Council voted before a rowdily cheering crowd to oppose Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and express concerns about the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). With a 9-0 vote, the councilmembers put the City on record against President Obama’s trade agenda…and, ironically, their own best interests.
I knew there was a lot of misinformation spreading about TPA and TPP, but until that moment I didn’t realize how deeply entrenched and widespread it was. Some of the concerns expressed about TPA and TPP are exactly the things that these trade policies are meant to address: raising labor and environmental standards across partner countries, helping grow jobs for all of our state’s residents, and increasing Congress’ ability to hold the President accountable for meeting our national trade policy goals. While WCIT was able to mitigate the Seattle City Council’s actions by convincing councilmembers to soften the language of the resolution, we still clearly have a long way to go to educate the general public and elected officials on the value of good trade policy to our state.
As the most trade supported state economy in the country and one of the most trade dependent cities, Seattle should be on the forefront pushing for the President’s trade agenda; instead the City Council has sent a devastating public message that they stand against growing opportunities through trade.
Only a few days after the Seattle City Council decision, WCIT heard from Administration officials from both the Department of State and Department of Commerce during their visits here. Their remarks confirmed my belief that the City Council’s actions were an uninformed misstep, and here are a few of the points they made:
- TPA lays a Congressional blueprint for trade. Jay Williams, Assistant Secretary of Commerce for Economic Development, made the point that TPA allows Congress to stipulate their requirements for our nation’s trade agreements. TPA is not giving power away to the President, but rather allowing Congress to exercise their authority over trade since formulating trade policies must be a joint effort between the Legislative and Executive Branch.
- TPA and TPP allow the U.S. to take a leadership position in writing global trade rules. Assistant Secretary Williams emphasized that the U.S. will get left behind as other countries move ahead with their own free trade agreements that don’t reflect our values and seriously disadvantage our exporters. Since most economic growth is occurring outside the U.S. (mainly in Asia), and 95% of the world’s customers are outside our borders, it’s urgent that we start breaking down barriers so that our exporters can tap into some of that growth. We should not cede that authority to other countries.
- ISDS (investor state dispute settlement) is not a mechanism to be feared, but rather is set up to protect U.S. investors and exporters. ISDS sets up an objective body so that in case a foreign government discriminates unfairly against a U.S. exporter or investor, their investment can be protected by rule of law, something that often would not happen in many countries’ legal systems. The U.S. legal system already allows for foreign companies to sue the government if they believe they’ve been wronged, and we are already party to ISDS in all our other trade agreements, so ISDS in TPP is not adding anything new.
- TPA and TPP are the best tools the U.S. has to raise global labor and environmental standards. Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian Affairs, Daniel Russel, spoke at length on how the TPP will be a landmark agreement that has some of the furthest-reaching provisions on anti-human trafficking, human rights, labor standards, environmental conservation, wildlife and fisheries of any trade agreement in history. Without such a trade agreement, we have no enforcement mechanism to encourage other countries to improve their standards.
- Our national credibility is on the line. Assistant Secretary Russel commented that other countries in the Asia-Pacific are looking to us to live up to our word and conclude an agreement in good faith. If we back out, we will cede our leadership in that region to other players, particularly China.
- You can’t give your playbook to the other team. Both Assistant Secretaries made this point. While opponents of TPP frequently complain the negotiations have been “in secret,” the truth is the U.S. Trade Representative’s office has gone to great lengths to make this negotiation more transparent than trade negotiations. It is not possible to negotiate a trade agreement – or any contract – in public, and negotiations require a level of confidentiality. Without it, it’s the same as giving away your game plan to the other side, which would not be in our national interest.
My meetings with Assistant Secretary Williams and Assistant Secretary Russel energized me to ramp up WCIT’s advocacy even more on TPA and TPP. We need everyone involved – please consider writing a letter to your members of Congress or writing a letter to the editor in your local paper explaining why increased trade opportunities is important to your company and job. If you’d like to get even more involved in WCIT’s advocacy, email me at firstname.lastname@example.org – we need all your voices so that the facts are heard over the roar of myths and misinformation on TPA and TPP!