Washington’s Congressional delegation and Gov. Jay Inslee should advocate strongly for prompt approval of the new trade agreement between the U.S., Canada and Mexico.
The nearly complete agreement is enormously important to Washington’s economic growth and job creation. The U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) also substantially improves environmental and labor protections over NAFTA, the 1994 agreement it will replace.
Sticking points that surfaced last week, such as metal standards, should not derail progress. They highlight the intensity of negotiations and encouraging bipartisan efforts to get it done. That includes a helpful olive branch to labor from the White House, with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer working to ensure that most steel and aluminum used by car companies is truly produced in North America.
Canada and Mexico are top trading partners for Washington, importing $12.4 billion worth of goods from the state last year. Overall exports support more than 330,000 jobs and 10,000 small businesses in Washington.
Intellectual-property protections are added, creating a template for future trade agreements. This benefits not just tech companies but other exporters with trade secrets, copyrights and patents, such as machinery firms that are among Washington’s top exporters to Canada and Mexico.
U.S. House Democrats last week indicated they were close to an agreement. Calling for a vote soon, before election activity increases in early 2020 and potentially sidelines USMCA, is a smart move on their part.
Advancing USMCA would demonstrate that Democrats aren’t all consumed by impeachment and are committed to strengthening the economy, growing employment and supporting farms and manufacturing. They would send the opposite message to voters by letting USMCA wither until after next year’s election.
“Folks are trying to get to yes collectively. I think that good faith effort is happening right now,” said U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina.
DelBene, whose district ranges from Microsoft to Whatcom County dairies, is part of a crucial House USMCA working group.
Inslee’s support is important. He was a strong advocate for NAFTA while in Congress in the 1990s.
But campaigning for president last summer, Inslee was skeptical of USMCA, siding with wary unions and environmental groups seeking more aggressive mandates.
Those groups are rightly concerned about Mexico’s ability to follow through on pledges to improve labor standards and North America’s commitment to addressing global warming. But perfect cannot be the enemy of the good.
Similar concerns by those special interests helped scuttle the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiated by the Obama Administration. If TPP survived, higher labor and environmental standards would be in place across much of the Pacific Rim. It would have countered China’s unfair trade practices and regional aggression, and likely averted the current trade war.
With Inslee now seeking another term leading trade-dependent Washington, he should be more publicly supportive of progress USMCA makes and benefits it would bring the entire state.
While USMCA could have done more, it includes “an impressive list” of environmental agreements, according to the International Institute for Sustainable Development. While “there was no chance” it would reference the Paris Agreement (as Inslee sought in June), it includes “a broad and ambitious range of environmental and conservation topics … including tackling illegal trade in forest products, combating marine plastic litter and reducing alien invasive species.”
Some environmental and labor groups will simply never support the agreement, while others see significant gains, said David Gantz, a University of Arizona law professor and trade-agreement expert.
“This is a huge improvement,” he said, adding that “if you’re looking for perfect you’re never going to get it, not with Mexico, not with other countries.”
USMCA passage is also needed to demonstrate that the U.S. is a credible trading partner. It’s one of many trade agreements the U.S. will be negotiating in the coming years, noted Stan Ryan, chief executive of Darigold, a marketing and processing company owned by the Northwest dairy farmers’ cooperative.
“If we cannot consummate the trade deal with our direct neighbors, we’ll be left at the doorstep with all of those others,” he said.
Washington’s delegation and Inslee appreciate the importance of trade and jobs it creates in the state. They should press for a vote on USMCA in the coming weeks.