Appealing to Washington’s dependence on trade, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry defended the proposed Trans-Pacific Partnership as a way to protect American goods and jobs and to influence other countries’ labor and environmental policies in front of an audience at the Boeing Co.’s Renton plant Tuesday.
The trade deal, also known as TPP, between 12 Pacific Rim nations has been met with skepticism in the Northwest—particularly by the City of Seattle and state Democrats. Kerry sought to answer some of the criticisms on Tuesday.
“We believe that rather than putting aside things we care about in order to compete with the rest of the world in a low-standards race to the bottom, we should help bring the rest of the world up to meet the high standards by which American businesses now operate,” he told the crowd of invitees.
“If we don’t clinch free-trade agreements in the Asian Pacific, it doesn’t mean that those agreements will not happen,” Kerry told the audience. “It just means we may not be part of them and we may not shape them. Standards will be driven down instead of up, and the business we might have had will go to our competitors instead.”
The audience included former United States Ambassador to China Gary Locke, State Rep. Eric Pettigrew, D-Seattle, whose district includes the Renton Boeing plant, and other local business and civic leaders, and some Boeing employees.
TPP would bind the United States in a trade agreement with 12 countries along the Pacific Rim, including Australia, Brunei, Chile, Japan, Malaysia, New Zealand, Peru, Singapore, and Vietnam.
President Barack Obama recently stumped for the deal at the Nike plant in Oregon. The president also is pushing for fast-track trade promotion authority on the deal, which would give his administration more power to negotiate TPP without Congressional oversight. Congress would be asked to vote on the deal after negotiations are complete.
The city of Seattle and the Washington State Democratic Central Committee have been among the groups criticizing the fast-track authority that Obama requests. Critics are concerned that fast track authority on TPP would put too much power in the hands of business interests, possibly compromise local and federal laws.
Kerry assured the crowd that while the negotiations have not been done in public, he said that labor and environmental protections will be built into the deal and that Congress will have a chance to hold hearings in public on a deal before a vote.
“The remedy is not to pull back from trade agreements, in an attempt to stop globalization. Globalization has no reverse gear, my friends,” Kerry said.
Kerry argued that concern for environmental and labor protections should not translate into an anti-trade stance.
“No matter how many politicians may stand up and appeal to that instinct to play to that fear, the fact is that globalization is here to stay. No one can put that genie back in the bottle. What we can do is mitigate the negative impacts.”
Before Kerry’s arrival, a group organized by the Washington Fair Trade Coalition and other pro-labor groups held signs criticizing the deal and the fast track authority outside the Boeing plant.
Garrett Scott, a letter carrier and member of the AFL-CIO, wore a blindfold as he held a sign that said “Fast Track Means Lost Jobs.”
“It’s another NAFTA deal that’s going to make some billionaires a lot of money, send our jobs overseas and hurt the middle class,” Scott said.
He said he wore the blindfold also to protest the secrecy under which the deal has been negotiated so far.
“I would say to President Barack Obama — who I supported and voted for — your core constituents are opposed to this policy. Your party is opposed to this policy,” Scott said.
Also outside the Boeing plant were supporters of Nestora Salgado, the Renton woman who has been jailed in Mexico after running a community police force. Her husband, Jose Luis Avila, and her daughter, Grisel Rodriguez, were among the picketers vying for Kerry’s attention.
Avila said that he would like the Secretary of State to take a strong stance urging Mexico to free Salgado, who faces an uncertain wait for trial. Human rights groups and politicians in Washington and Mexico have already backed Salgado’s case.
“We have been knocking on his door for months,” Avila said. “Hopefully he can see that we’re here, and we’re not going away.”