Portland liberals seem surprised that the Hermiston City Council unanimously passed a resolution urging Congress to "oppose international trade agreements that facilitate the offshoring of Oregon jobs." It asks Congress to repeal the president's "fast-track" trade authority for more "democratic" and 'inclusive" policymaking procedures.

This seems "pretty liberal" for the "red" part of the state. That's the trouble with defining our politics with terms like "red state" and "blue state" and "liberal" and "conservative." Many important issues transcend deliberately narrow stereotypes; international trade is one of them. The Hermiston resolution reflects concerns among the main-street merchant class which has been ignored by the Republican Party as it caters to corporate interests and the fundamentalist right.

Hermiston and Umatilla County are the heart of an economy that ties it tightly to Portland. Since the days of sailing ships, Eastern Oregon wheat has been transported to Portland docks by barge and train, where it is transferred to ships and carried to Asia and the Middle East.

After World War II, the Umatilla County economy was diversified by irrigated agriculture driven by cheap hydroelectricity from the federal dams on the Columbia River. Produce grown in irrigated circles is processed into frozen food that also goes down the Columbia by barge in refrigerated containers and shipped around the world.

Potatoes became the crown jewel of this trade - shoestring potatoes, shredded, hash browned, simply shreds, fajita fries, french fries, golden crinkled, steak fries, steak cut, tater tots, crinkle cuts, crispy crowns, tater tots and especially french fries. The food processing industry is as important to the dry side as high technology has become to Portland and its suburbs.

Umatilla County's economy was profoundly shaken when Simplot moved its food processing business overseas in the wake of the North American Free Trade Agreement. The trend continues, not just because of cheap labor, but because American tax policy encourages business to leave.

Congressman Greg Walden, who represents Eastern Oregon, has been a willing participant in sustaining this job-draining tax policy. The only real opponent in the delegation has been Congressman Peter DeFazio.

International trade is as important to the Oregon economy as keeping manufacturing and food processing jobs here. It transcends the political boundaries that are maintained by the partisans. Trade policy is a potentially unifying issue as urban and rural Oregonians come to realize the consequences of the federal government's reckless trade policies of the last three decades.


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