The Washington Trade Conference May Be Over, But Advocacy on Top Trade Policy Issues Is Just Gearing Up

Or to clarify the title of this blog post, the Washington Trade Conference is definitely over. It took place on Monday, although we here at WCIT are only now coming down from our post-event high (and recovering from post-event exhaustion!). We were overjoyed with the incredible speakers and panelists, the questions from our audience and the energy in the room focused on policies and investments necessary to maximize Washington’s international competitiveness. Now that the conference is over, we’re even more excited to capitalize on that audience energy to engage a broad cross-section of our state’s employers in advocacy efforts on the policy issues highlighted on Monday.

In particular, our keynote speakers and panelists (you can see the agenda and speaker line up here) focused on a few key themes:

  • Trade liberalization is the key to economic growth for Washington state and the world

One point rang out loud and clear from many of our speakers and panelists, including Scott Price of Walmart Asia, Ralph Carter of FedEx and Bill Reinsch of the National Foreign Trade Council: free trade generates economic growth, lowers cost of living and raises quality of life of people around the world. As Washington state’s economy is inextricably tied to international trade, trade liberalization is even more important for our state.

Speakers and panelists pointed out the tremendous benefits of the trade agreements that are currently being negotiated: the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP) and the Trade in Services Agreement (TISA). For example, a successful TTIP would increase Washington’s exports to the EU by 26% and would create 17,000 Washington jobs. TPP would reduce costs for Washington employers large and small doing business in the Asia Pacific region. Together TTIP and TPP would establish a platform for free trade and set high standards and rules for 70% of world trade. And since Washington is a major service exporter (6th largest in the US), a services agreement (TISA) would also have a huge positive impact on our state. 

Yet none of these trade agreements are likely to pass without Congress granting the President Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), which provides trade negotiators with Congress’ requirements for future trade agreements and enables agreements that meet those requirements to be voted on without amendment. Passing TPA is a top priority for WCIT, and we will be doubling down on our efforts to pass this crucial legislation over the next few months.

  • A healthy trade relationship with China is critical for Washington state, and luckily things may be getting better

David Dollar, Senior Fellow at John L. Thornton China Center at the Brookings Institution updated the audience on the state of China’s economy and economic reforms. He spoke with guarded optimism about improving trade relations with China, as China has recently relaxed some of their policies and is realizing they need more to drive growth with more openness. China is also closely watching the TPP negotiations and does not want to be left behind, and as a result, they are more serious than ever about finalizing a meaningful Bilateral Investment Treaty (BIT) with the United States.

All this is good news for Washington, since China is our largest trading partner. The panelists on our US-China trade policy panel agreed that a free trade agreement with China would be good for Washington, and all believed that it could be possible in the foreseeable future. As for now, China must commit to more reforms, the US must keep pressure on China to protect IP rights, and we must leverage the WTO and bilateral negotiations to resolve disputes.

  • We must never forget the importance of our ports and freight mobility infrastructure

With 75 ports in Washington state (the most of any state in the nation), a core component of Washington’s international trade success is our role an intermodal gateway to the nation and world. Yet our ports panel unanimously agreed that the State Legislature and general public do not understand the challenges facing Washington ports, and therefore do not prioritize them.  As Port of Tacoma CEO John Wolfe pointed out, if we do not invest in our ports and freight mobility infrastructure at the same rate as our competitors such as Canada, we will fall behind.

The panelists also mentioned how important it is to prioritize transportation and freight mobility infrastructure that enables efficient movement of goods to and from the ports to the rest of the state and country. Compared to other states and Canada, Washington is far behind, so it is imperative we pass a statewide transportation funding package soon.

All port panelists also agreed that the current structure of the Harbor Maintenance Tax is another threat to the health of Washington ports. WCIT will continue working with ports across the Pacific Northwest to pass the Maritime Goods Movement Act, a bill introduced by Senators Murray and Cantwell that would reform the Harbor Maintenance Tax and provide more funding for our state’s port infrastructure needs.

To catch up on all of the conversations from throughout the day, check out our Twitter feed (@Washington Trade) where we used the hashtag #watradeconf to recap all the insights on the top trade policy issues facing our state. Or check out this piece from the Seattle Times’ Jon Talton.

While the year is close to over, there’s still time to work together to address key trade policy priorities for Washington state – from a transportation package in Olympia to TPA in DC. Keep checking in with WCIT to find out ways that you can support these essential efforts that will ensure the success of Washington employers in the global marketplace!


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