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Commentary: Protectionism Won't Create Jobs

International trade deals aren't wrecking the economy.
| FROM THE PRINT EDITION |
 
 
 
There are very few things Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump have agreed on during this year’s presidential campaign. Yet, somehow, both candidates are aligned on the message that trade deals are the cause of all our country’s economic woes. This view is not only unfortunate and wrong, but it could have far-reaching negative impacts on Washington’s trade-reliant economy.
 
International trade truly has been Washington state’s vehicle to prosperity, supporting 40 percent of all our jobs. We are home to some of the world’s most recognized and successful global brands, which create tens of thousands of high-paying jobs for Washington residents. But it’s not just big businesses that thrive on trade; 90 percent of Washington’s exporters are small and midsize businesses. They are the farmers, the manufacturers, the service providers and retailers that bring Washington’s high-quality goods and services to the world. In fact, small businesses that export stay in business longer, hire more employees and pay more.
 
The truth is that Washington is not only trade dependent, we are also generally trade supportive. A recent poll released by the Washington Council on International Trade (WCIT) found that 54 percent of Washington voters support the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), while 23 percent oppose. This figure mirrors national polls, such as an NBC poll that found 55 percent of voters agree that free trade with foreign countries is good for America. All the reports of overwhelming backlash against trade deals are really just the loud protests of a minority of citizens. And yet, because this minority is so vocal and the anti-TPP rhetoric is being accepted as fact, the 2016 presidential election has the potential to change our country’s commitment to global engagement.
 
The irony is that trade agreements are actually the solution to — not the cause of — the negative impacts of globalization. They break down barriers to United States exports and make sure it’s just as easy for our companies to do business in other countries as it is for foreign companies to do business here. The data show that the 20 countries with which we have trade agreements buy significantly more American goods than anyone else; in fact, our trade agreement partners buy 50 percent of U.S. exports even though they account for only 10 percent of the global economy.
 
With our trade agreement partners, we tend to have a trade surplus — meaning we export more than we import — in most categories of products and services. It is countries like China — with which we don’t have trade agreements — that restrict access to their markets and cause our trade deficit.
 
Trade agreements can also do more than open up opportunities for U.S. employers and workers. High-standard trade agreements like the TPP also provide the tools to raise global trade standards on everything from labor conditions and environmental protections to customs procedures and intellectual property rights. Without such agreements, we have no ability to enact and enforce these improvements globally. 
 
As much flak as the TPP has taken during this campaign, the data tell a very different story. A recent study released by the Association of Washington Business and WCIT found that, if the TPP had been fully implemented in 2015, Washington’s exports could have been up to $8.7 billion higher, which could directly create up to 26,000 new jobs. Given Washington’s strong trade ties to the Asia-Pacific region and concentration of industries like agriculture, software and aerospace that stand to gain from the TPP, it’s no surprise that our state would greatly benefit from the Pacific Rim trade deal. 
 
Regardless of who gets elected president in November, Washington residents must fight hard to ensure that our country rejects any retreat from the global economy and protectionist stances. Our jobs, our quality of life, and our access to goods and services we value depend on it. 
 
Eric Schinfeld is president of the Washington Council on International Trade. Reach him at erics@wcit.org.

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