Cantwell to Treasury Secretary Nominee: Economic Focus Needs to be More “Main Street than Wall Street”

WASHINGTON, D.C. – As millions of Washington families and thousands of businesses statewide continue to feel the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), a senior member of the Senate Finance Committee, questioned President-elect Biden’s nominee for Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen about the incoming administration’s plans to boost the economy for working Americans and support Washington’s trade economy.   

The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Washington workers hard, with more than 515,000 Washingtonians currently receiving unemployment benefits. Cantwell has been a Senate champion of expanded federal unemployment benefits and other COVID-19 assistance programs, and the incoming Biden administration has already proposed a major new package to provide assistance to workers, businesses, and communities.

“I can already see by the words that you’ve chosen – women workers, workforce, workforce training – that you are likely to deliver economic policies that are more focused on Main Street than Wall Street,” Cantwell said. “And I hope that is what I’m hearing, because I believe that we need wage growth in America, that Americans in all walks of life need more aspects to wage growth…”

“I couldn’t agree with you more. Our focus should be on Main Street, not Wall Street,” Yellen responded.

Highlighting the importance of trade to Washington’s economy, Cantwell also asked Yellen how she plans to help grow trade opportunities and repair damaged economic relationships with trading partners around the world, while maintaining strong enforcement of trade rules.

“We in the Pacific Northwest believe in an export economy,” Cantwell said. “[We have] not been a fan of the Trump administration’s what I would call unilateral protectionism. I don’t think that this is the direction in an economy where ninety-five percent of consumers live outside the United States of America.”

“A recent Oxford Economic Trade War study said that the Trump administration’s trade war cost us 245,000 American jobs,” Cantwell continued. “So I am asking you, do you repudiate… unilateral protectionism?”

Even before COVID-19, the Trump administration’s trade wars had damaged Washington’s trade economy. Overall, Washington’s exports of goods subjected to retaliatory tariffs by China declined by nearly 23 percent. As a result of these tariffs, cherry exports to China dropped 67 percent, while apple exports to China dropped by 67 percent and apple exports to India dropped by 55 percent. Washington apple growers lost significant market share in both countries, dropping from 55 percent to 19 percent in India and from 47 percent to 12 percent in China. As a result of both COVID and tariffs, the value of U.S. agricultural goods exported from Washington ports declined by more than 21 percent in the first three months of 2020.

In 2019, Washington state exported over $60 billion worth of goods to countries all over the world, with half of all exports going to China, Canada, Japan, South Korea, and Mexico. The market potential for specific Washington agricultural goods like cherries are reaching highs of $141 million, up from $70 million in 2019. In addition, Washington’s wheat industry produced $1.8 billion in economic output in 2019 and current exports of white wheat are up more than 40% since then. China also represents the single largest airplane market for commercial aircraft, worth a total of $1.3 trillion over the next two decades. Prior to the trade war with China, one in four U.S. commercial aircraft exports went to China, as well as 20% of all U.S. exports.

Senator Cantwell has been a strong advocate for trade and Washington’s export economy throughout her time in office. She helped secure stronger labor enforcement provisions in the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA) and supported the deal’s passage through Congress. Last year, she led a bipartisan letter calling on the Trump administration to prioritize the U.S. potato industry in negotiations with China; the agreement included provisions related to potatoes she had encouraged. She also joined a bipartisan group of senators to call for assistance for wheat growers impacted by COVID-19.

As the current Ranking Member and incoming chair of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation, Cantwell has also been a leading advocate of investments in Washington’s trade infrastructure. She has helped secure significant funding for a number of Washington ports and freight infrastructure projects. Funding she helped secure in 2020 includes $73.6 million for the Puget Sound Gateway Project, $17.75 million for a new cargo terminal at the Port of Everett and $10.6 million for the Northwest Seaport Alliance, among other projects.

Video of Senator Cantwell’s Q&A from the hearing is available HERE and audio is available HERE.