Brian McDowell

The short answer: Bilateral free trade agreements are the most beneficial trade agreements for Eastern Oregon. Another way to state this claim is that a negotiated agreement between two parties with minimal outside influence from third parties typically results in each party getting the most fair and beneficial deal possible. There are a plethora of reasons for this but I will put only three to you for consideration now: customization, pliability and empowerment.

• Customization: the ability for each party to directly engage the other in negotiating the most relevant, pressing, valuable, responsive and rare or unique factors that are pertinent between the two parties. For example, a wood products manufacturer in Eastern Oregon might find a very different set of trade terms to be most beneficial depending on who the specific buyer is (e.g., customer demands, desired features, sub-uses, etc.) and whether the buyer is located in Portland, New York or Shanghai (e.g., transportation, time to market, applicable laws, etc.). Negotiating directly allows for maximum value for both parties to be derived while preserving the ability to tailor terms for a different trading partner. The greater the number of parties involved, the less ability to customize and the less fair the deal will be to some of the parties involved. Closely related to this idea is pliability.

• Pliability: the capability of each party to be situationally aware, sensitive and responsive to changes in market conditions, party and counter party needs, and geopolitical events such as military actions, diplomatic postures or regulatory shifts, that might occur between the two parties. So, a cattle rancher in Union County can meet unexpected regulatory changes that occur for one customer without causing operational problems or negatively impacting other customers. This factor is particularly important for long-term relationships as well, by allowing for easier accommodation or renegotiation when factors inevitably change (e.g., political leadership, natural resource utilization, population/cultural demographics, etc.) for one or both parties. Lastly, is empowerment.

• Empowerment: the perspective for each party to operate from the strongest respective position it is capable of having when engaging the other party, which may be very different between separate counter parties (e.g., you are dealing with Idaho vs. China). Additionally, bilateral free trade can work extremely well with an interest-based bargaining negotiation strategy. This is a strategy where the parties are operating and negotiating with a focus on achieving their and the counter party’s interests instead of their respective positions only. Interest-based negotiation typically leads to substantially more value or benefit to each party vs. when another strategy (like distributive negotiation) is used. Inevitably, when there are a greater number of distinct sets of interests that have to be satisfied, the less likely interest-based approaches can be used effectively. Typically, an approach of finding “common ground” or “what is good for most” of the parties is adopted, which leaves less influential parties at an unnecessary disadvantage. Questions like who decides what common ground is and what “most” means can also become problematic, again, placing some parties at a disadvantage.

One caveat to effective engagement and success in bilateral free trade is that any party coming to the table must have done their homework, be prepared and otherwise be “smart cookies.” Critical thinking, situational awareness, cultural awareness, technical perspective and clear expectations are minimum mandates to participate. Fortunately, our folks in Eastern Oregon have these features in abundance and can take the field with confidence. We need state and federal leaders to understand and support this perspective as well if we really want to rapidly accelerate moving the needle on effective trade agreements and obtaining available value.

In short, the most advantageous, value unlocking and empowering type of trade agreement for Eastern Oregon, America and any sovereign interest, is bilateral free trade.