What’s An International Trade Issue?

Over the next few weeks, State of Trade – the new Washington Council on International Trade blog – is going to start with the basics. Don’t you worry, we’ll get to the hard hitting issues of the day (like the South Korea, Panama and Colombia free trade agreements), but since you and I are still in the get-to-know-you stage, I thought I’d take it a little slow. So, you’ll see blog posts like “Who Cares About International Trade?” and “What’s International Trade Got to Do with Washington state?” It’s like how my freshman year college theater professor’s first lecture was entitled “What is Art?” You’ve got to make sure that everyone’s on the same page before you get into the details.

And today is the first one of those, answering the important question “What’s an International Trade Issue?”

I mean, you figure that – for an organization like the Washington Council on International Trade – we should probably know the answer. We are the “primary information resource on international trade issues for elected representatives, business leaders, the media, educators and community groups in Washington state” after all. But I think that our answer might surprise you.

Yes, we absolutely care about the tangible trade policy discussions of the day: free trade agreements, trade promotion authority (“fast track”), the harmonized tariff schedule and the WTO. But increasingly – and especially for Washington state – international trade impacts so much of our economy, and so much policy impacts our international trade competitiveness.

Take this article by Talton in the Seattle Times. In talking about how Washington is the third-largest agriculture exporter among the 50 states, he highlights two pressing federal issues that must be resolved to keep us successful on this front. No, not the widening of the Panama canal or the harbor maintenance tax. Rather, it’s 1) the farm bill (which impacts prices for agricultural commodities) and 2) comprehensive immigration reform (because of the need for, and shortage of, farm workers).

And that’s just one example. I also think about how much our state’s growing global health sector is contributing to our overseas activity; the last Washington Global Health Alliance mapping study found that the top nine global health organizations in our state have operations in 92 countries around the world. And so, federal policy and funding decisions with regard to NIH, CDC or USAID are vital to the ability of these organizations to continue their international activities. And I can talk about a wide variety of similar issues with regard to the IT industry, aerospace or clean tech.

Now, if you started reading this blog post hoping that “Oh good, I’ll find out the three specific things that are international trade issues and go home knowing that nothing else than those three matter”, you’re probably disappointed. And I hate to disappoint you this early in our relationship, but I hope that you’re also excited. The realization that so much of what we do at the federal level impacts our international trade competitiveness is actually a great opportunity for us to widen our thinking about ways that we can positively support trade promotion in a diverse group of industries in our state’s economy. And, if the President’s National Export Initiative is going to achieve its goal of doubling exports in five years, that’s exactly what we’re going to need to do.

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