This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.
Free-trade pacts with Korea, Colombia and Panama – a hot topic in the other Washington – could heat up business in this Washington if they’re passed.
In fact, this state stands to be one of the biggest winners if Congress approves the long-delayed pacts in the next few weeks. The Korean pact alone could generate $10 billion in increased exports and tens of thousands of jobs.
Being the most trade-dependent state, Washington stands to be a huge beneficiary of increased shipping through the ports of Tacoma, Seattle, Olympia and other entry points if tariffs are eliminated or phased out on beef, cherries, apples, other agricultural items and manufactured goods. More goods being loaded onto ships headed toward Korea means more jobs and bigger payrolls.
Korea is already one of the state’s closest trading partners – its fourth largest – and the pact would open up that burgeoning economy to even more goods.
Although the trade pacts were signed during the George W. Bush administration, the Obama administration didn’t send them to Congress for approval until some sticking points were renegotiated. The administration wanted greater access for U.S. automakers to the Korean market and more concessions from Colombia to protect labor rights.
The administration also wanted congressional Republicans to extend expired retraining and financial benefits for workers who lost their jobs due to foreign competition. Pact critics fear such job losses if the agreements are approved.
Some jobs likely would be displaced with freer trade, but thousands more are expected to be created. The trade-off is one the United States must make or risk losing market share to other nations more than willing to increase trade with those countries.
This state’s congressional delegation has been supportive of the trade pacts – among the few pieces of legislation that have garnered significant bipartisan backing. Besides improving trade and diplomatic relations with Korea, Panama and Colombia, passage of the agreements would be an all-too-rare display of legislators being able to work together on important legislation.
Given Americans’ all-time-low approval rating of Congress, that would be no small thing.