What I Learned in DC: It’s Time to Get Business More Engaged in Trade

I had a great trip to Washington, DC last week (which you know already if you followed the hashtag #WCITinDC along the way).

And what you’ve all been wondering…the question that’s been keeping you up at night…is “What was Eric’s number one take away from his meetings with the Washington Congressional delegation!?!?” Well, sleep peacefully tonight, loyal followers of the State of Trade blog, because I’m happy to share. And I can summarize it in one sentence: Our Congressional delegation needs to hear from business on trade much more than they do right now.

Here’s the deal: many folks who are against current trade policy proposals – such as the pending free trade agreements with Korea, Panama and Colombia – are incredibly vocal about their opposition. And they’ve got a clear message: trade kills jobs and we won’t support you if you vote in favor of these FTAs. Pretty powerful stuff, especially if you hear it from a significant number of people.

A majority of the business community in Washington state disagrees with those voices, yet the thing about business people is that they’re busy doing business. They get that trade matters, but they are engaged in doing trade, not trying to convince elected officials that it matters. In fact, to them, what shows the Congressional delegation that trade matters is when they create jobs through increase international business activity. But, when there’s a major vote on the line, that can sometimes not be enough. Or rather, even if the Congressional delegation votes in favor of trade, it’s much harder for them to do so when all they’re hearing is negative messages about trade.

Of course, that’s exactly where WCIT comes in. I used to say that our main responsibility was to help the Washington Congressional delegation understand the business community’s perspective on trade policy, but that’s clearly only half the battle. The other piece is to get the business community actively communicating that support in addition to my conveying it on their behalf.

Which is where WCIT events like the upcoming Washington Trade Conference are so important: not only because they get our delegation in a room with hundreds of businesses talking about trade, but because it provides the business community with an easy, accessible platform for them to show their support of trade directly to the Congressional delegation…without having to fly to DC or make hours of phone calls.

There are plenty of other examples of how we can create such a platform, through things like letters of support signed by businesses across the state or our annual DC Fly-in event. And creative opportunities throughout the year, particularly during Congressional recesses. That’s what we’re here for.

But the bottom line is that – if we as a business community care about trade policy – it’s incumbent upon us to make sure that our voices are heard.

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