(Washington, D.C.) In Eastern Washington, our history is linked to free trade. In 1810, a fur-trading post called the Spokane House was established. It served for 16 years as the headquarters for fur trade between the Rockies and the Cascades and was a major commercial center.
Free trade helped develop our region and continues to play a large role in our present and future economic well-being. In order for our entrepreneurs to be successful, they need access to capital, lower taxes, lower regulatory burdens, and a skilled workforce. They also need open markets since over 90 percent of consumers are now outside the United States. Today in Washington State, one in every three jobs is linked to trade.
For 13 years, I worked on a small family farm and fruit stand where we sold peaches, cherries and apples to our neighbors. Today our farmers provide food not just to our neighboring communities but to our neighboring countries.
Today, I am announcing my support for the Central American Free Trade Agreement. This was not an easy decision and one made only after listening to the concerns of many people throughout Eastern Washington whose input I value.
All across this region – from Omak to Asotin – I have heard from farmers, ranchers, manufacturers, high-tech companies, small business owners and labor groups about the impacts, both positive and negative, that this agreement will have on Eastern Washington.
Some of my longtime supporters and friends – even my own family – have shared with me their concerns regarding this agreement. Some of their apprehensions include a loss of jobs at home, and lower product standards for goods being imported into our country.
Yet I have also heard from people whose jobs and livelihood depend on open markets and free trade.
In 2003, our state’s exports exceeded $34 billion. Since 2000, the amount of Washington products shipped to Central America has increased nearly 250 percent. Transportation and aeronautics is our top export, followed by agricultural products, software, electronic and scientific equipment, and wood products.
The ultimate goal of this trade agreement is to level the playing field. Right now Central American countries ship their products into the U.S. without additional costs. This agreement would eliminate tariffs, which are essentially taxes for shipping products to another country, on more than 80 percent of U.S. exports. Remaining tariffs will be phased out over the next 10 years. It will also benefit small and medium sized businesses, which are responsible for 35 percent of all U.S. exports to the region.
Here in Eastern Washington, we have many businesses with customers in Central American countries who will benefit from this trade agreement:
Pearson Packaging Systems Inc., the West Plains-based maker of packaging machinery, plans to enter the CAFTA market within the next 18 months.
Itron in Spokane is a high-tech company specializing in meter readers with 25 percent of their international sales in the CAFTA region. Without this agreement they will continue to be at a disadvantage in competing with European non-tariff countries.
StarrProducts, a specialty tools with an office in Davenport, has told me that this will help them sell more products because it will lower tariffs on their imports into Central America.
Local agricultural producers will benefit from this trade agreement. Washington is the ninth largest state agricultural exporter to the Central American market and exports are expected to double under this agreement. Our wheat growers, apple producers and potato industry believe this agreement is crucial for our economic growth.
This decision is not just about our economic security – it’s also about our national security. In the 1980’s, Central America was characterized by civil war, chaos, dictators and Communist insurgents. Today, this region of young democracies needs our support.
Free and healthy economies foster peaceful, democratic societies. In 1945 only 20 democracies operated under the rule of law. Today, there are almost 120 democracies, with another 30 countries in the process of democratizing. A stable Central America is key in our long-term fight against oppression.
Finally, ensuring and upholding our nation’s sovereignty is above all the most important value of who we are as Americans. I vow to uphold our sovereignty and never take a vote that will violate its preservation. This agreement remains protective of our federal system of shared power and ensures that federal, state and local agencies are the only ones with the authority to change our laws.
In Congress, proposals are complicated when you consider the impacts to our region, our country and our position around the world. In these first months, I have taken over 400 votes, and everyone can probably find a vote where they disagree with me. There is no such thing as a perfect bill. In fact, many times you have to decide if something is 51 percent good or 51 percent bad.
Despite the concerns raised, I ultimately believe it will bring new opportunities, job creation and greater security for Eastern Washington and America.