More than a year after withdrawing the United States from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, President Trump would be wise to re-engage with Asian trading partners.
That is the conclusion of 25 Republican senators, who recently sent a letter urging the president to reconsider a pact of vital importance to Washington. As the nation’s most trade-dependent state, Washington benefits from agreements that encourage economic cooperation among Pacific Rim countries.
Such cooperation was the goal of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, negotiated over five years by the Obama administration.
The deal, which included 12 nations when the United States was involved, set parameters for reduced tariffs while calling for increased uniformity in labor, wage and environmental laws. The Washington Council on International Trade estimates that the pact would mean about $8.7 billion annually for our state and create 26,000 jobs by opening markets for agriculture, aerospace and technology.
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Three days into his presidency in 2017, Trump fulfilled a campaign promise by withdrawing the United States from the partnership. To be clear, he was not the only critic of the plan; presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton also had spoken against it during the 2016 campaign.
The drawbacks to pulling out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership, however, have become clear, and the other 11 nations are working toward an agreement minus the United States. In addition, striking an agreement with the likes of Japan, Vietnam and Singapore would help mitigate the economic influence of China, which is not party to the deal.
The senators wrote: “As you know, increased economic engagement with the 11 nations currently in the TPP has the potential to substantially improve the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, support millions of U.S. jobs, increase U.S. exports, increase wages, fully unleash America’s energy potential, and benefit consumers.”
Trump has indicated a willingness to reconsider the partnership “if we were able to make a substantially better deal.”
That is a worthy goal. Many people believed the plan was not beneficial for the United States, and an improved trade climate for American workers and manufacturers always is desirable.
But at the same time, Trump has worked to further isolate this nation in the global marketplace. He recently imposed tariffs upon washing machines and solar energy equipment, adding that he might slap “substantial tariffs” on imports of steel and aluminum.
Tariffs on solar equipment are one example of the unintended consequences of anti-trade policies. The Solar Energy Industries Association said: “The decision effectively will cause the loss of roughly 23,000 American jobs this year, including many in manufacturing, and it will result in the delay or cancellation of billions of dollars in solar investments.”
The same dynamic is at play with the Trans-Pacific Partnership. For Washington, narrowing markets for apples or cherries and aerospace products will limit the ability of local producers to compete on the global stage. It also will impact workers at ports, in packaging industries, and at vendor businesses. Protectionism only makes the market smaller at a time when that market should be expanding for Washington businesses.
When the United States is included, nations in the Trans-Pacific Partnership account for about 40 percent of the world’s economy while serving as a buffer against Chinese expansion. That creates benefits that should be embraced.