Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and Japanese Ambassador to the U.S. Kenichiro Sasae signed a Memorandum of Cooperation Tuesday to strengthen trade between the Evergreen State and Japan.
The ceremony to seal the economic agreement had the trappings of an international treaty signing. The ambassador and the governor exchanged leather-bound texts and shook hands in front of a flag backdrop.
The pact they signed however is non-binding. It contains a list of pledges to continue to cooperate to promote trade and investment, technology demonstrations and educational exchanges.
The Japanese ambassador used the platform to urge Inslee and the state of Washington to support the pending Trans-Pacific Partnership trade deal. That's a dicey subject for a Democratic governor seeking re-election this fall.
Inslee said after the event he did not have a position on the 12-nation Pacific trade agreement and would need time to study the details.
"We are trying to step up the effort to conclude the free trade agreement, the Trans-Pacific agreement," Ambassador Sasae said during the ceremony in downtown Seattle Tuesday.
In answer to a question from public radio, Sasae described the Memorandum of Cooperation with Washington state as "a complementary arrangement" to the much wider TPP trade deal. The Japanese government has previously signed a similar non-binding economic cooperation pact with the state of California.
The U.S. and 11 other Pacific Rim nations finalized the TPP trade agreement in February of this year. However, the treaty needs to be ratified by the U.S. Senate and some of the other nations' parliaments before it can take effect.
The Obama Administration has signaled it wishes to get a ratification vote before leaving office. But it is unclear how soon that could happen, not the least of which because of election year politics.
Presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump said in an economic policy speech Tuesday that he would scrap the TPP and possibly other trade agreements as well and renegotiate. On the campaign trail, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has walked back her past praise of the Pacific trade deal.
In his remarks Tuesday, Inslee said the state of Washington ships about $6 billion in goods and services to Japan annually, which supports about 30,000 jobs. In 2015, Japan was Washington state’s third largest export market.