August 17, 2018

Federal Affairs Summit creates new connections between delegation, employers

By: Andrew Lenderman   Comments: 0
Rep. Derek Kilmer, D-WA, at left, moderates the Trading With Canada and Mexico panel with Roberto Dondisch, head consul of Mexico in Seattle, and Lewis Coughlin, consul and trade commissioner at the Consulate General of Canada during the AWB Federal Affairs Summit on Aug. 14, 2018 at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. (Photo: Brian Mittge/AWB)

AWB’s first stand-alone Federal Affairs Summit cut through the noise and created new connections between Washington’s congressional delegation and employers, who talked about the big challenges facing our state.

Key takeaways from Tuesday’s event include: We need a new strategy for trade agreements. A big infrastructure funding bill is still possible. There’s hope for a voting quorum on the U.S. Export-Import (Ex-Im) Bank, and, Canada and Mexico are ready to make a deal on the North American Free Trade Agreement.

Six members of Congress from both parties participated in the day-long event at the Greater Tacoma Convention Center. And, about 100 Washington employers, policymakers and economic development leaders gathered for a lively discussion focused on keeping Washington competitive.


AWB welcomed leading Canadian and Mexican diplomats to lead a panel discussion on the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA).

The agreement has resulted in a huge increase in regional trade, from $290 billion in 1994 to more than $1.1 trillion in 2016, the Council on Foreign Relations reports. But the future of NAFTA is uncertain, and the president has frequently threatened to withdraw the U.S. from the agreement, which he criticized often in his run for president.

Negotiations among the three countries have gone on for a year, including discussion of bilateral agreements among just two partners rather than a binding agreement for all three.

Still, Canadian and Mexican consul officials were hopeful and said North America is stronger when we work together.

“We need a win win win,” said Consul Lewis Coughlin of Canada’s consul and trade commissioner. “And the three of us partners working together with a strengthened NAFTA is the way to go.”

Dr. Robert Dondisch, head consul of Mexico, Seattle, said having an integrated North American economy is best for all countries, and the only way to compete worldwide.

Dondisch also pointed out that Mexico has 134 million people with a steadily growing economy and middle class.

“The Mexican market has become a huge market for American companies,” Dondisch said.

Trade today in Washington State

Trade Panel
Paul Read of the Journal of Business moderates the trade panel at the 2018 AWB Federal Affairs Summit. Panelists, from left: David Konz of Tidewater Transportation & Terminals; Olowo-n'djo Tchala of Alaffia; and Kristin Kershaw of Domex Superfresh Growers. 
Kristin Kershaw of Domex Suprefresh Growers in Yakima is ready to capitalize on that and other markets. Her company is a leading exporter of apples, cherries and other fruits to customers all over the world.

In panel on “Trade Today in Washington State,” Kershaw said her industry has exploded since the enactment of NAFTA, and that money has been reinvested in rural Washington communities. Mexico and Canada are the top two markets, she said.

She also said future growth will be in Asia, and that the continent is poised for some incredible consumer-driven growth, the “largest explosion of the global middle class the world has ever known.”

Regarding trade barriers, she said, “If we can’t resolve it, we’re saying that we really don’t want to participate.”

Olowo-n’djo Tchala, CEO and co-founder of Alaffia, which makes fair trade body care products, talked about his company’s work to create new trade alliances around the world.

“We sell in over eight different Asian countries,” Tchala said. “And to get those relations, that took us seven years. So, we don’t have another seven years to try to rebuild those relationships.”


Rep. Adam Smith
Rep. Adam Smith, D-WA-9, speaks at the AWB Federal Affairs Summit.
The main message from Washington’s congressional delegation was clear: Let’s fix the trade agreements we have in a strategic way. Lack of a resolution on trade agreements could be especially tough on Eastern Washington, where about 90 percent of the region’s $2.2 billion wheat crop is exported. Federal lawmakers called for a better approach than simply enacting tariffs.

“It needs to be a more strategic, targeted approach that will hold the bad actors accountable, but not continue to lead us toward a trade war,” said U.S. Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-5).

U.S. Rep. Rick Larsen (D-2) said the best solution is open markets and trade agreements.

“Trade, not aid – that’s what our farmers want,” he said.

U.S. Rep. Denny Heck (D-10) changed the subject with some energetic and cautious optimism around a new infrastructure investment bill and a new board member for the Ex-Im Bank.

“There is an underlying consensus that we need to do more on infrastructure, and I think we ought to take advantage of it,” Heck said. These investments both create jobs in the short term and lay the groundwork for future economic growth, he added.

U.S. Rep. Adam Smith (D-9) addressed the need for investments in workforce development, apprenticeships and trades. He also addressed immigration.

“We need workers,” Smith said. Throughout our country’s history, he said, these workers have come from our citizens, and people from all around the world who want to come “to the most powerful, prosperous nation in the world and build a better life for themselves and their families. Immigration is a net positive for this country.”

U.S. Supreme Court

Former Sen. Slade Gorton
Former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton discusses the U.S. Supreme Court at the AWB Federal Affairs Summit.
One afternoon highlight came from former U.S. Sen. Slade Gorton, who predicted a 52-47 confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court by Oct. 1. His prediction is based on a conversation he had with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).

Gorton added that presidents “are often fooled and frequently disappointed by their own appointments” when it comes to their voting records.

Gorton, as Washington’s attorney general, argued 14 cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, and said it was his favorite action in that role.

Thank you, employers

Tuesday’s event was hosted in the district of U.S. Rep. Derek Kilmer (D-6). He made sure to thank Washington’s employer community.

“As someone who used to work in economic development professionally, I want to say something that I think elected officials need to say more to employers in this room, and that is, thank you,” Kilmer said. “Thank you for doing business in the state of Washington, thank you for contributing to our dynamism, thank you for employing people here in this state and thank you for choosing here as a place in which to do business. And I’m certainly eager to be a good partner to you.”

The event closed with a late afternoon reception in the lobby of the convention center, which features floor to ceiling windows that overlook the Port of Tacoma and the Puget Sound. AWB President Kris Johnson closed his remarks by inviting members to participate in the D.C. Fly-in event, scheduled for Dec. 4-6 in the nation’s capital.

To learn more or get involved, please contact Amy Anderson at 360.943.1600 or

For more from the Federal Affairs Summit, watch this video summary: