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Trade-Dependent Washington State Awaits Vote On `Fast-Track’ Trade Bill

Tim VanReenen
Wheat is one of Washington state's top agricultural exports

Forty percent of jobs in Washington state are tied to trade, but the issue of creating new free trade agreements is divisive.

The U.S. House is expected to vote this month on so-called fast-track trade authority, which would give the president the power to negotiate trade agreements and send them to Congress for an up or down vote. Lawmakers wouldn’t be able to amend those trade deals. The fast-track bill also spells out certain labor and environmental standards Congress wants.

Eric Schinfeld with the Washington Council on International Trade says it helps clear the way for trade deals that would boost Washington exports.

"We make some of the best goods and services in the entire world here in Washington state, but we can’t sell as many as we want to or should be able to if we don’t have fair market access to all of our competitor countries around the world," Schinfeld said.

Labor unions and environmental groups are trying to defeat the fast-track bill.

David Groves with the Washington State Labor Council says they’re concerned about a trade deal in the works with countries on both sides of the Pacific. He says free trade deals haven’t benefited U.S. workers.

"Income inequality in this country is as bad as it’s ever been and we were promised something very different when they started passing these deals," Groves said.

The bill passed in the U.S. Senate and will likely come before House members in mid-June.

In July 2017, Ashley Gross became KNKX's youth and education reporter after years of covering the business and labor beat. She joined the station in May 2012 and previously worked five years at WBEZ in Chicago, where she reported on business and the economy. Her work telling the human side of the mortgage crisis garnered awards from the Illinois Associated Press and the Chicago Headline Club. She's also reported for the Alaska Public Radio Network in Anchorage and for Bloomberg News in San Francisco.