The benefits of international trade are evident in Washington. From 20% to nearly a third of the state’s jobs are related to imports and exports, and our products are crucial to global transportation, agriculture, retail, and even coffee consumption.
The Pacific Trade Pact, announced last week by President Joe Biden, is good news for Washington’s economy. After four years of an administration that retreated from global commerce, the pact’s goal is to rebuild relationships with partner nations and demonstrate that the United States wants to remain a leader in the global economy.
“America First” for too many people means a bunker mentality in which America backs out of deals that are mutually beneficial to us and our allies. This should mean the United States taking the lead in setting an economic agenda for our trading partners, working to open markets for American products to ship abroad and welcoming products from other countries.
Our state is at the center of this back and forth between competing philosophies on trade, giving federal policies an outward impact on our workers and businesses.
Of course, the Pacific Trade Pact is not a panacea. As Washington Post columnist Catherine Rampell notes, the United States and 12 other countries managed to approve a “trade deal that won’t involve much (if any) trade liberalization.”
For this reason, the agreement is largely symbolic. But the symbolism matters as America tries to win back the trust and support of friendly nations who must stand by our side to stem China’s growing economic influence.
US officials have long believed that the Chinese government and Chinese companies engage in unfair trade practices, intellectual property theft and data privacy breaches. The result is a booming economic powerhouse that is just as dangerous as untrustworthy military powers.
Not so long ago, the United States struck a broad deal to stand up to China economically. The Trans-Pacific Partnership, brokered by the Obama administration, brought together the United States and 11 other Pacific nations to forge open markets, set labor and environmental standards, and form a bulwark against Chinese influence.
By the time Barack Obama left office, Democrats in Washington, DC, had joined Republicans in opposing the partnership. The Trump administration responded with a trade policy that amounted to punitive tariffs and nothing else – a simplistic approach to a complicated issue. Notably, the other Trans-Pacific Partnership countries have embraced many aspects of the pact, leaving the United States to watch rather than take a leadership role.
The new Pacific Trade Pact is devoid of the intricate details that were present in the previous agreement. It fails to adequately open the avenues of trade and fails to adequately provide a pathway to the lucrative United States market that so many nations desire. As one headline of a Bloomberg News opinion piece put it: “US Can’t Beat China If It’s Scared Of Trade.”
That fear comes from isolationists in Congress and the Biden administration’s understanding that Republicans have turned away from their longstanding faith in free trade. Yet the symbolism of the new deal remains important. If the United States can mend the relationships that have been damaged under the Trump administration, it will build the confidence of our trading partners.
That confidence will resonate in Washington as much as anywhere else.