Today Will Forever Be Known As October 12, 2011!

And not only because that’s actually the date. Today is the date that – after years of delay and sometimes hopelessness – the free trade agreements with South Korea, Panama & Colombia passed the United States Congress!

We’ll be referencing this day for years to come, because the passage of these free trade agreements is a big deal. It’s a big deal for our state’s economy (more than 10,000 jobs created because of these FTAs) and for a wide variety of industries within our state’s economy ($52 million alone in increased agricultural exports, a reduction on roasted coffee tariffs from 30% to zero, new opportunities for IT, aerospace and services).

But in many ways, it’s an even bigger deal for what it means politically and for the future of trade policy.

I don’t have to tell you how difficult things are in Washington, DC right now in terms of partisanship and gridlock. We can’t even get annual appropriations bills passed, much less major pieces of legislation to address significant economic, social and political issues – from climate change to immigration reform. Yet, in that same environment, we’re about to see broad bipartisan support for the most significant trade agreement in the last 15 years.

I can think of a lot of reasons why trade policy has been given this exalted status of “doable” in DC world where most things are “DOA”, but the biggest reason is the prevailing recognition that increased trade is the way out of our country’s economic malaise. In a world in which domestic demand is down for the foreseeable future, the best customers for US products are overseas; in a world in which US companies can grow jobs domestically by expanding their global supply chains, lower tariffs on imports actually helps our major retailers and manufacturers be more competitive and increase US employment.

As Washingtonians, we need to give a ton of credit in particular to our state’s Congressional delegation. We’re going to get almost 100% support for all three trade agreements from our two Senators and nine Representatives. The reason is the same as I just mentioned in the paragraph above: they get trade, its importance, and that it’s particularly essential to our state (“the most trade dependent state in the nation”). There is plenty of pressure locally and nationally for them to vote no, for a wide variety of reasons, but they are willing to take these votes because they know that the long term economic benefit will be significant. If you do nothing else to celebrate this day that will be forever known as October 12, 2011, you should take a moment to call or email them a note of thanks for their support for these FTAs; here is their contact information.

I mentioned that the passage of these agreements is significant for the future of trade policy. One of the important things we need to remember is that the passage of these FTAs doesn’t allow us to just pack our bags and go home satisfied. There’s a ton left to do on the trade policy front – from TPP and Russia WTO to the Harbor Maintenance Tax and travel visa reform – and WCIT will be leading the way on behalf of Washington state businesses on these issues. But this basic recognition of the vital importance of trade paves the way for success on these issues moving forward.

There’s plenty of time to discuss those next steps, but for now, let’s celebrate. That is, call the delegation to say thank you, and then celebrate. Possibly with a glass of Washington wine, which will no longer face 15% tariffs when exported to South Korea…


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