I learned a number of things on the trip, not the least of which being that moving from 11 members of Congress to 12 makes it even harder to visit the entire delegation in one day (thanks a lot, 2010 US Census). But, as you can see from our agenda, we did it, and it turns out that saying the same thing 12 times in a row gets you pretty good at it by the end! But in addition to that more practical learning, here are the top three takeaways that I had from our Congressional meetings.
1) The Washington Congressional Delegation is Engaged on Trade Policy: I’ve always said that I have a pretty easy job (although I don’t like to say that too much around my annual performance review) because our state’s Congressional delegation fundamentally understands that trade is a significant driver of our state’s economy, and that they need to support policies that facilitate increased global competitiveness for Washington employers. But even more than understanding, they are truly engaged. In the conversations we had with our elected officials, they were present, thoughtful, interested and asked a lot of great questions to better understand the issues involved. I’ve been in a lot of meeting with elected officials who couldn’t care less about what I was saying, so I know when one is truly engaged. We are lucky to have the Congressional delegation we have, and there is great opportunity to help them take even larger Congressional leadership role on trade policy with the right support.
2) There are Some Great Short Term Opportunities for Moving Forward on the Trade Agenda: WCIT’s 2013 Policy Priorities is a list of 10 issues that are key to the international competitiveness of Washington employers…but not all of them are going to get accomplished this year, not matter how fantastic WCIT is at advocating for them (which is pretty fantastic). For example, the Trans-Pacific Partnership and Transatlantic Trade & Investment Partnership negotiations won’t be ready for Congressional approval until at least next year. But there are a couple of significant near-term opportunities. For example, reform of the Harbor Maintenance Tax (HMT) is moving, with Senate passage of a Water Resources Development Act bill that included some key HMT language. And the upcoming vote on re-nomination of Export-Import Bank Chairman Fred Hochberg is key to the ongoing impact of the Ex-Im Bank, which WCIT successfully advocated to reauthorize last year. So, despite the continuing gridlock in the Beltway, we had some very positive and optimistic conversations with our delegation about ways to move forward this year.
3) Trade Promotion Authority is a Major Priority: I mentioned above the numerous trade agreements being negotiated currently, like TPP and TTIP…not to mention the WTO Services Plurilateral and others. In order for those trade agreements to be effectively negotiated and expeditiously passed, the United States needs trade promotion authority (TPA). TPA (also known as “fast track”) provides Administration negotiators with clear direction from Congress on priorities and criteria, then allows for quick review and approval of completed trade agreements that meet those goals. We spent a lot of time discussing with our Congressional delegation that issue, and gearing them up for strong support and leadership. With Senate Finance Chairman Baucus announcing his goal of a June release of legislation and the formation of the Trade Benefits America coalition (a group of leading DC associations focused on advocating for TPA), there is great optimism for action this year. I have even come up with an incredibly clever twitter hashtag for the effort: #fasttrackTPA. (Get it? “Fast track” is another name for TPA, but I’m also saying that we should fast track approval of TPA!)
So that’s what I learned. Plus, that the quesadillas at Tortilla Coast are still delicious. Thanks to everyone who attended this year’s Fly-in, and to our sponsors: Microsoft, Monument Policy Group, the Washington Potato Commission and the NW Horticultural Council. We look forward to including even more of you in next year’s event, and to successfully working with everyone in the state on moving some of these policy issues forward!