After the President's speech, I posted this and also mailed it to my congresscritters. The only response from them was from Adam Smith (see below). But basically he said he's all for trade promotion authority and the TPP while trying to not actually say that. It seems a lost cause unless many people join me in contacting their representatives.
Thank you for contacting me regarding your concerns about Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) and the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a multilateral free trade agreement currently under negotiation. I appreciate hearing from you about this very important issue.
Let me first say that I am committed to growing jobs here at home and agree that we must work to promote American jobs and ensure we have a strong, well-trained workforce. Throughout my time in Congress, I have been working to do just that. Not only have I supported robust investments in education and workforce training and development, but I have also supported programs to assist American manufacturers access new markets. Additionally, I have pushed to increase the minimum wage to ensure our workers are compensated fairly for their work and can be part of our country's middle class.
I also agree with you that input from Congress and the American people on the terms of any TPP agreement is critical to ensure that it is the best deal possible for the American people. President Obama has laid out a range of ambitious standards for this trade agreement to better position domestic industries and workers and to raise the standard of living of the global economy. These include incorporating high labor standards, promoting innovation, helping small and medium sized enterprises export their products to new markets, reducing costs for utilizing green goods and services, allowing governments to respond quickly to the needs of their communities, and allowing our exporters to more actively compete in international markets especially against state-owned enterprises and value added taxes, among others.
As a part of broader efforts to renew U.S. economic, diplomatic, and defense engagement with Asia, TPP seeks to improve our trade relationships in the Asia-Pacific region. Although negotiations began on November 12, 2011 and some of the agreement's text has begun to take shape, there are still important outstanding issues that need to be addressed. The current negotiations include Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
Of the eleven countries currently in the partnership, the United States already has existing trade agreements with six of the participant countries. There are also more than 180 preferential trade agreements among Asia-Pacific countries, most of which do not include the United States. Further, the Asia-Pacific region hosts some of the fastest growing markets in the world and there is potential for significant economic gains for the U.S. from increased trade with these countries over the next couple of decades. A successful agreement could go a long way toward the creation and retention of American jobs as the economy continues to recover.
If done right, Washington State is particularly well-positioned geographically and economically to take full advantage of a TPP agreement. Our state's economy is one of the most trade-dependent in the country due in part to the large amount of container traffic at our two large ports in Tacoma and Seattle, as well as the demand for Washington exports such as agriculture and aerospace products. Over the past 30 years, Washington's exports have contributed to nearly 40 percent of the state's jobs. In 2011, total Washington State exports equaled $64.6 billion, placing the state fifth in the nation and with 37% of these exports going to TPP countries. Additionally, there are over 375 companies in TPP countries with investments in Washington State. Expanding market access for American goods and services overseas is a critical part of growing our economy.
I have heard from various local stakeholders who feel they continue to lack meaningful input in that process and I agree with those concerns. Throughout TPP negotiations, I have been actively engaged with all stakeholders that have concerns about a wide range of issues within TPP. Not only have I convened many meetings to discuss these concerns directly with my constituents, I have also transmitted these concerns directly to decision makers in Washington, DC. Last year, I convened an important meeting with U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) Froman where leaders of our community had the opportunity to voice their concerns directly to the Ambassador here at home. Issues regarding constitutional authority, transparency, labor and environmental provisions were all discussed openly.
Due to this continued engagement with the Administration concerning these pressing issues, USTR has implemented new transparency measures to engage stakeholders and the public. One of these important changes is the inclusion of labor representatives in all 16 Industry Trade Advisory Committees (ITAC) that was announced in February 2014. This was an important policy shift because typically labor unions are represented in a Labor Advisory Committee (LAC) and their representatives cannot participate in the proceedings of other ITACs or any ad hoc working groups they form.
In his State of the Union address, President Obama indicated that he will seek Congressional approval of TPA. Technically, TPA is not necessary to begin or even conclude trade negotiations, but it is widely understood to be a key element for passing legislation that implements trade agreements. Previous negotiations for free trade agreements were conducted under the auspices of Congress through TPA, which has been reauthorized by Congress since 1974. The last authorization expired on July 1, 2007.
TPA defines how Congress has chosen to exercise its constitutional authority over trade policy. It allows the President to negotiate directly with foreign countries and then submit the agreement to Congress for unamended consideration under an expedited timeline. Beyond negotiation objectives laid out by TPA, I was pleased that Democratic congressional leaders succeeded in forcing the White House to agree to a new trade framework for bilateral trade agreements in May 2007. Previous trade agreements had not done enough to ensure the environment and workers' rights were protected. Our trade system must include enforceable protections for workers and the environment to help create an economy that benefits the largest possible number of people. I voted against the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) exactly because it lacked these protections.
However, Democratic congressional leaders and I have continued to insist that minimum standards for workers' rights and environmental protection be included in the core of the trade agreements and that these provisions be enforceable and subject to the same sanctions for violations as all other parts of the agreement. Democratic leaders have worked closely with national labor unions and major environmental groups to make sure strong language was included. The bipartisan agreement that was reached – known as the May 10th agreement – represented a fundamental shift forward in U.S. trade policy, as all pending U.S. free trade agreements were amended to include these important labor and environmental priorities. These changes have been accepted as a baseline for future trade agreements.
However, I consider the May 10th agreement to be a foundation upon which we need to continue to build. I have heard and share the concerns my constituents have voiced over the strength and enforceability of the labor and environment chapters in TPP. I too agree that we need to preserve and continue to build high standards, along with having the ability to hold trade partners accountable should they not honor their commitments. For this reason, in early 2014 I signed a letter to United States Trade Representative Michael Froman urging him to protect the environmental provisions in the May 10th agreement within TPP. This letter asked him to ensure stronger and binding environmental provisions to help better address climate change, protect finite natural resources, and foster economic stability at home and abroad.
I also share some of the concerns of the labor community and have expressed these in Washington, DC to key decision makers. In May, I signed a letter to Ambassador Froman urging him to support an enhanced framework for protecting worker's rights to help ensure that TPP benefits the middle class in this country and protects the rights of workers in our trading partner countries. The U.S. must ensure that substantial progress is made on this front in countries like Vietnam, Malaysia, Brunei, and Mexico to ensure that we are not rewarding bad practices or inadequate labor norms.
In an effort to provide the Administration with instructions and objectives for the trade agreements under negotiation, last Congress Senator Max Baucus, Senator Orrin Hatch and, Congressman Dave Camp introduced the Bipartisan Trade Promotion Authority Act (BTPAA) of 2014 in January 2014. This legislation included new negotiation objectives for the 21st century economy and expanded executive branch requirements to consult with Congress and the public. This bill was not considered in either the House or the Senate in the 113th Congress and a new TPA bill has not been introduced this Congress.
As the TPP negotiation process continues to evolve, I will continue working to ensure that any TPP agreement reached is the best deal possible for the American people, builds on the May 10th agreement, and reflects our values. As the TPA debate continues or should TPP become a formal agreement that is submitted to Congress for consideration, I will be sure to keep your thoughts in mind.
Additionally, I remain strongly committed to strengthening Washington State's economy by supporting robust investments in education, job training assistance, and help for American manufacturers. I realize that trade raises countless other issues and concerns. I am constantly looking for ways to not just improve our trade policy, but to make other public policy changes that will help workers both in the United States and throughout the world better deal with the challenges of our rapidly changing global economy. Congress must continue to work for better health care, job training, education, and fairer wages to ensure broader economic opportunity and make our workers more competitive in the global economy.
While I believe that trade is a key component to help our economy grow – even if done right – it is not enough. We must also do more to help displaced workers in our country – more skills training, income support during displacement, and health care coverage and pensions that don't go away with a change in job. That is why I have worked to support displaced workers and make sure the American workforce stays competitive.
One way to assist displaced workers is through the Trade Adjustment Assistance (TAA) program, which offers job training, extended unemployment benefits, and health benefits to workers who lose their jobs as a direct result of foreign trade. I have introduced legislation for several years to make the TAA program a more generous benefit for displaced workers, as well as to extend it to cover service-sector workers, such as software programmers, engineers, and architects, who lose their jobs as a result of competition from trade. These benefits expired in February 2011 and I have worked hard to push for their renewal, including the introduction of my own bill last Congress. I will continue my support for this program and will reintroduce my legislation very soon to ensure that American workers have the training and assistance they need.
Again, thank you for contacting me in regard to Trade Promotion Authority and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. I will continue to support economic and trade policies that uphold our basic values and truly benefit Americans and Washington State residents. Should you have additional questions, concerns, or comments in the future, please feel free to contact me again.