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Many Northwest Democrats Noncommittal On Fast-Tracking Trade Deals

A McLin
File photo of the container ship Hanjin Hamburg at the Port of Seattle.

So far, few Northwest Democrats are getting on board with a deal to "fast track" a pending Pacific trade agreement, The Trans-Pacific Partnership.

On Thursday, Oregon's senior senator, Democrat Ron Wyden, unveiled bipartisan legislation to clear the way and set sideboards around the biggest trade deal since NAFTA. In Seattle Friday, Washington Senator Patty Murray said she's supportive given the importance of international trade to the Northwest. But she won't sign on as a co-sponsor at this time.

"We need to be able to make and sell our products here overseas in order to keep our economy strong,” she said. “But we also need to protect Washington state workers and we need to make sure we're not competing with foreign countries that don't have strong labor and environmental practices.”

Republicans, including Washington Congressman Dave Reichert and Idaho Senator Jim Risch, sound the most amenable to giving the Democratic president expanded trade negotiating authority.

"As a long-time proponent of high-standard trade agreements that bring more jobs and more business to our workers, growers, and manufacturers, I know that we need passage of this legislation to make this priority a reality," Reichert said.

Among House Democrats from the Northwest, Congressman Earl Blumenauer of Portland stood out by co-authoring an op-ed with Senator Wyden extolling the proposed trade framework. On his Congressional website, Blumenauer elaborated on Friday about why he believes the current trade proposal is "a dramatic improvement" over previous trade agreements.

"It includes a human rights negotiating objective for the very first time," he wrote. "Responding to demands for greater transparency, future trade agreements will be public for 60 days before the President signs them, and up to four months before Congress votes."

On Saturday, labor, environmental and "fair trade" activists are planning a national day of action to pressure members of Congress to oppose the new trade accord.

"They are not eager to take a stance," Washington Fair Trade Coalition campaign coordinator Gillian Locasio said.

Scheduled events in the Northwest include protest rallies in downtown Portland, Eugene, Bend and Medford, Oregon, and in Ferndale, Washington. Activists and union members also plan to canvass in Olympia, Tacoma and Everett, Washington.

At this juncture, Oregon Democrat Peter DeFazio is the lone Northwest Congressman to stake out a definitive position against giving the president expanded authority to negotiate a Pacific trade pact. DeFazio issued a statement Thursday in which he called fast track legislation a "raw deal for American workers and the environment."

Wyden's Oregon seatmate, Democratic Senator Jeff Merkley said the fast track legislation must be "strengthened" before he would consider giving it his support.

“Trade agreements must be negotiated in an open and transparent manner, must put a stop to currency manipulation that kills American jobs, and must ensure that foreign companies respect the integrity of America’s consumer and environmental laws," Merkley said in an emailed statement Friday. "The fast track bill does not ensure that these standards will be met."

Now semi-retired, Tom Banse covered national news, business, science, public policy, Olympic sports and human interest stories from across the Northwest. He reported from well known and out–of–the–way places in the region where important, amusing, touching, or outrageous events unfolded. Tom's stories can be found online and were heard on-air during "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered" on NPR stations in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho.