Stimulating Trade, Stimulating the Economy
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By Tom Donohue, President and CEO, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
As the economy was declining last year, the media missed an important part of the story—how America's growing exports were helping slow the descent into recession. Likewise, by removing barriers to American goods and services in overseas markets, we can help lift ourselves out of this downturn and kick-start the economy.
Yet many of our policymakers continue to refuse to break down these barriers so that American businesses can sell more of their goods and services overseas. Don't forget, 95% of the world's consumers live outside the United States!
The best way to eliminate those barriers is through free trade agreements. We have three excellent agreements—with Panama, Colombia, and South Korea—currently languishing in Congress. It's time to break the impasse, stop playing politics, and get them passed.
An analysis by the U.S. Chamber found that enactment of these agreements would boost U.S. exports by more than $42 billion within five years. While domestic consumption of goods and services has declined significantly, overseas markets provide a lifeline for small businesses, which account for 97% of all U.S. companies that export.
What do trade agreements do for American businesses and workers? They level the playing field. The U.S. market is already largely open to imports from around the world, but other countries continue to levy steep tariffs on U.S. exports and erect other kinds of barriers to our goods and services.
The administration has sent mixed signals on trade. During the presidential campaign, Sen. Obama spoke out against NAFTA and criticized the three agreements negotiated by the previous administration. But President Obama has changed his tune on NAFTA and has expressed a willingness to move forward on trade agreements. Rhetorical support, however, has not yet translated into action.
At the same time, many people are rightly concerned for those workers who are adversely impacted by trade. Americans would be more supportive of trade if they knew that those workers wouldn't be left out in the cold. Trade benefits the vast majority of American workers, but those who lose their jobs through no fault of their own deserve the chance to be retrained for a new economic environment. That's why the Chamber was pleased to see that the economic stimulus package included a provision to expand and modernize Trade Adjustment Assistance.
Fifty-seven million Americans are already employed by firms that benefit from exports. We can make that number even larger by opening new markets to U.S. goods and services. Let's get on with it.