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Rep. Schrader leaning in favor of Pacific trade pact

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Democrat not yet decided, but says it would benefit Oregon farm products.


U.S. Rep. Kurt Schrader faced questions Tuesday (Feb. 16) from critics of a pending trade agreement with 11 other Asian and Pacific nations.

Despite the criticism, the four-term Democrat from Oregon’s 5th District says he’s leaning toward supporting it when it comes up for a vote in the House.

Schrader said he has not yet completed reading the full text of the agreement, which the White House lists at more than 2,000 pages.

“But I am not convinced it’s bad,” he said at a town hall meeting at Providence Willamette Falls Community Center in Oregon City. “As the world gets smaller and globalization occurs, I just want to make sure we set the standards.”

Unlike past free-trade agreements that lacked them, Schrader said, he likes the environmental and labor standards set in the pending agreement, officially the Trans-Pacific Partnership. He said the alternative is to defer to China, the world’s second-largest economy, which is not a party to the agreement.

“The greater concern is that U.S. companies will get discriminated against by other governments (whose enterprises) are state-owned and rely on corrupt practices,” Schrader said.

Critics, among them labor unions that generally supported Schrader, say that such agreements cost U.S. jobs and let other nations make unfair inroads into the big U.S. market.

Schrader in 2011 voted to ratify trade agreements that President George W. Bush concluded with Panama and South Korea in 2007. He opposed a third agreement that Bush negotiated with Colombia.

Democrats have been split over the latest agreement, which was negotiated by President Barack Obama under fast-track authority Congress granted him in 2015. Except for Sen. Jeff Merkley and Rep. Peter DeFazio, all members of Congress from Oregon voted for that authority.

Democratic presidential candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders oppose it, although Clinton played a role in its preliminary work as secretary of state in Obama’s first term.

The formal agreement was signed Feb. 4, although its outlines were released last fall.

The value of Oregon exports in 2014 was close to $21 billion, according to the U.S. Department of Commerce, and exports to participating nations account for almost half that total.

After China, Oregon’s largest export markets are Canada, Malaysia, Japan and South Korea. The United States already had trade pacts with Canada — through the North American Free-Trade Agreement — and South Korea. Vietnam ranked seventh.

Mexico, also a participant in NAFTA and the new agreement, ranked 11th.

The new agreement includes Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam. Others are Australia, Brunei, Chile, New Zealand, Peru and Singapore.

Schrader said the agreement would open new markets for Oregon agricultural producers in Japan, Malaysia and Vietnam because it would do away with or severely restrict tariff barriers imposed by those countries.

“It’s an outstanding opportunity for us to create jobs,” particularly in that sector, he said.

The Office of the U.S. Trade Representative says the agreement would benefit Oregon producers of wheat, fruit and nuts, vegetables, dairy products and beef.

Schrader sat on the House Agriculture Committee when the current federal farm legislation was completed in 2014, but he is no longer on that panel.

Afterward, Schrader said he expects a House vote on the agreement no earlier than May.

House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., has said he would like to bring the agreement to a vote as soon as the House determines whether its benefits outweigh its drawbacks. But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ken., has said he does not intend to bring it up for a vote before the presidential election Nov. 8.

“We will see what happens,” Schrader said. “There is still plenty of politics. That’s the sad part.”

pwong@pamplinmedia.com

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