This environmentalist (grudgingly) sides with Trump on trade debate | KUOW News and Information

This environmentalist (grudgingly) sides with Trump on trade debate

Sep 15, 2016

Last month in Everett, Donald Trump called the Trans-Pacific Partnership a “disaster.”

Hillary Clinton opposes it, too. So what does the rise in anti-trade politics mean for Washington – the most trade-dependent state?

Ron Rogness, an executive at American Seafoods, isn't happy about this talk. American Seafoods is a multimillion-dollar company based in Seattle that employs about 1,000 people.

A lot of his company's fish is used to make imitation crab meat, or surimi. If Congress approves the TPP, the Japanese tariff on surimi made from U.S. fish would drop to zero from over 4 percent currently.

That would benefit Rogness and the people who work for his company.

"We have about 135 employees on each of our vessels. They're paid a percentage of the catch,” he says. “The higher prices that are paid for the product, the more money in their pockets.”

But Rogness says if Trump or Clinton or the next Congress kills the Trans-Pacific Partnership, it won't just hurt American workers. He argues that would also hurt the environment because "with surimi our primary competitors are unsustainably managed fisheries in South Pacific, Indonesia Philippines.”

Ron Rogness, an executive at American Seafoods, isn't happy about this anti-trade talk.
Credit KUOW Photo/David Hyde

Unlike Alaska, he says, “Those fisheries virtually have no quotas. They use gear types that tend to be destructive to the environment."

Many environmentalists here emphatically disagree. They see the rise of anti-TPP politics this year through a different lens.

Robin Everett is lead organizer with the Sierra Club in Washington state who believes “what we could be doing is making sure that fishermen in the South China Sea are fishing at the same standards that we expect from our fishermen. That really levels the playing field. That really protects the environment.”

Everett also says the TPP will mean more imports of fish from places where the fishing practices are not sustainable – and more imports of fish from places where crews are enslaved.

Everett welcomes the trade politics this year. She even has some grudging sympathy for Donald Trump – at least on this issue.

“He's seeing the same things that we're seeing," she says. "That our workers and our environment are not being protected through these trade deals."

University of Washington historian Margaret O'Mara says the clash over trade we’re seeing this year is nothing new: "Over the course of the 19th century, there were all these battles that pop up regularly in presidential campaigns about trade and tariffs."

And you may recall a line from the presidential debates in 1992: "There will be giant sucking sound going south.”

That was independent candidate Ross Perot, who warned the U.S. would lose factory jobs to Mexico under the North American Free Trade Agreement.

But O'Mara says these jobs are being lost for more complicated reasons than politicians like Ross Perot or Donald Trump let on.

"What has affected American industry and American blue-collar jobs in the last 40 to 50 years have been larger macroeconomic and global political changes and technological changes that have propelled American jobs overseas," she says.

The political conflict over trade deals in Washington state is about jobs. But it’s also about what those jobs symbolize. And this year, "Made in America" is a symbol that TPP opponents – and supporters – want to embrace.