Trump’s, Sanders’s trade policies would hurt Washington’s economy

There is a broad consensus that free trade is good for the American economy – among the political elites of both parties, anyway. This topsy-turvy political year has served as a reminder that a small but significant percentage of the American public remains unconvinced that free trade is a net positive.

Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders are tapping into voters on the right and left who feel free trade undercuts them or leaves them behind. Trump says he’ll slap a 45% tariff on Chinese-made goods (yeah, right). Sanders, who worries about Americans having too many deodorant choices, apparently sees our economy much the same way the Venezuelan kleptocracy sees theirs.

Even Hillary Clinton – whose husband signed NAFTA and who remains mostly a free trader – bowed to the political winds in her party and flip-flopped on the TPP.

Disastrous for Washington
Skepticism about free trade varies by region. In Michigan’s recent presidential primary, six in 10 voters who believe free trade is costing American jobs backed Bernie Sanders. That’s not surprising, but the Detroit News disagrees with the anti-trade sentiments, saying that a protectionist philosophy “would start trade wars, ultimately kill jobs and further ruin the U.S. economy.”

The consequences of abandoning America’s free trade stance would vary by region too. For Washington, they’d be disastrous. As the most export-dependent state in the nation, these candidates’ stances are threats to our very livelihood.

Foreign responses to American protectionist trade policies would hit Washington especially hard. The options available – retaliatory tariffs, closed markets, currency manipulations, and favored trade status between other nations but not us – would mean layoffs and lower wages for Washington workers.

Exports from every part of the state
Our state’s economy is fueled by exports. Think about the value of Boeing airplanes, Microsoft software, Ellensburg hay, Wenatchee cherries, Yakima apples – the list could go on and on. Every region of Washington would be hit in our collective pocketbook if markets, especially in growing Asian economies, barred or restricted American goods.

The causes driving anti-trade angst, including declining opportunities for the working class, are real and need to be addressed. But we know that high-wage jobs come from high-value products. Our focus should be on raising the education and skills levels of more Americans, not in trying to claw back T-shirt manufacturing from China at the expense of $100 million Boeing airplanes.

There’s no doubt that in a free trade pullback, our state would be the loser. As you evaluate the presidential candidates, keep that in mind.
-Rob McKenna

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Rob McKenna
Rob served two terms as Washington’s Attorney General, from 2005 to 2013. He successfully argued three cases before the U.S. Supreme Court and negotiated three of the largest consumer financial protection settlements in national history, all involving mortgage lending and servicing. He is a recognized leader in the development of consumer protections on the internet, in data protection and privacy regulation.