In a video he released last week, President-elect Donald Trump outlined the executive actions he plans to take on his first day in office.
First on the list: “I am going to issue a notification of intent to withdraw from the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a potential disaster for our country,” Trump said, adding that he would negotiate bilateral trade deals — those between the U.S. and only one other country.
While Trump’s stances on many policy issues have been famously fluid, opposition to free-trade deals was a bedrock of his campaign
And yet, call it optimism or call it naiveté, U.S. Rep. Dave Reichert, a TPP supporter who leads the House Subcommittee on Trade, doesn’t think the pact is dead.
“Do I think the TPP may go forward? Yes, I do,” said Reichert, R-Auburn, whose district includes eastern King and Pierce counties, as well as Chelan and Kittitas counties.
“Do I think it might be going forward in the current form that it is in? I don’t know,” he added. “It could be bilateral agreements, it could be multilateral agreements in pieces, it could be all in one piece. But I’m not going to give up on it.”
It wasn’t just Trump who opposed TPP. Both leading Democratic candidates for president also did.
That’s part of the reason why, a year ago, when Reichert took over chairmanship of the trade subcommittee, he said the best chance to ratify the TPP might be in the lame-duck session of Congress, occurring now.
That’s not going to happen.
Reichert did not endorse Trump for president and announced he would not vote for him after a video surfaced of Trump bragging about assaulting women.
Reichert said he wrote in Trump’s vice-presidential candidate, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence, on his presidential ballot.
Reichert has long been a supporter of the TPP and of trade deals in general. In 2013, he joined with three other congressmen — two Democrats, one other Republican — to form the Friends of the Trans-Pacific Partnership Caucus.
Opponents of the trade deal, including labor unions and environmental groups, criticize it for being too corporate-friendly and including a provision that allows foreign companies to challenge a country’s laws before an international tribunal.
Washington, with an economy centered on technology, aerospace and agriculture, is among the most trade-dependent states in the nation, and Reichert eagerly rattles off statistics saying as much.
Before the U.S.-Korea Trade Agreement, which went into effect in 2012, South Korea had a 25 percent tariff on imported cherries.
“Korea’s our fourth-largest trading partner here in Washington,” Reichert said. “In just one year, with that tariff removed, we doubled our exports on cherries to Korea.”
Reichert says the path forward is to focus on the specifics of the deal — potentially making any number of changes to the 12-nation deal that has already been through five years of negotiations.
“The substance of the agreement drives the process,” Reichert said. “So if we can get to a place where the substance is agreeable to the members, the issues that they have concerns over have been addressed, then I think the process moves forward. So, I always have hope.”
The TPP would have affected about 18,000 tariffs in the 12 countries it covers, with some going away immediately, some reduced and others phased out over longer time periods.
Although Reichert is a longtime supporter of free-trade deals, and Trump made opposition to America’s trade policies one of the themes of his campaign, the congressman still thinks there is common ground.
In parsing Trump’s campaign statements, he says he sees three broad areas of agreement: They both think trade agreements should be fair for all Americans, they think agreements should be job creators in the U.S., and they think trade agreements should help America sell its products.
Aren’t those areas of agreement so broad as to be fairly meaningless, in practice?
Reichert says they are not.
“As far as overly optimistic, some people have called me that for years. That’s just the way Dave Reichert operates,” he said. “When I get the chance to go in and talk to the U.S. trade ambassador, they’re going to hear energy from me, they’re going to hear optimism and they’re going to hear an explanation as to why TPP and trade in general is such an important part of our economy.”