Democrats must give Obama trade promotion authority
President Barack Obama declared in his State of the Union speech, “We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment and open new markets to new goods stamped ‘Made in the USA.’ China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines. Neither should we.”
Republicans agree. But the president has not followed through on his call for legislative action. Giving him trade promotion authority would put two large trade deals on a fast track to completion.
It appears politics have intruded. The president has given in to members of his party who oppose granting fast-track authority because the trade deals might alienate friendly special-interest groups in an election year. He reportedly did not even mention the issue when speaking to the House Democratic Caucus at its annual retreat. Then Vice President Joe Biden, addressing the same group, said the White House would be backing off the issue in deference to Democrats’ political concerns.
After five years of economic stagnation and high unemployment, we should be seizing every opportunity to create more jobs and get the economy growing at a faster pace. We could do that today in both the Senate and House by passing legislation giving the president the authority to wrap up the two trade pacts — all without adding a dime to the deficit.
Presidents of both parties have in the past used trade promotion authority to negotiate trade agreements that help American farmers, ranchers, entrepreneurs and job creators gain access to new consumers around the globe. By renewing the authority, which expired in 2007, Congress sets the rules for the proposed trade agreements and, in return, agrees to allow for a straight up-or-down vote when the agreements come before it.
The Department of Commerce recently announced that the United States exported $2.3 trillion of goods and services in 2013, setting another record for the fourth consecutive year. According to economists, every billion dollar of additional exports creates about 5,000 well-paying U.S. jobs. Roughly 10 million jobs nationwide are tied directly to exports. In fact, exports have created 1.3 million new jobs just since 2010.
Exports of U.S. agricultural products reached a record $141 billion in 2012, up from less than $90 billion five years earlier. More than 1 in 5 jobs in South Dakota is tied to trade, according to estimates in a recent Business Roundtable study, up from 11 percent in 1992.
But we can do better.
The trade agreements with 11 Asia-Pacific countries and the 28 European Union nations would open up access to one billion consumers around the globe. That could translate into thousands of new jobs and faster economic growth.
This opportunity can only become reality, however, if the president has the authority to close the deals. Foreign nations won’t put their best offers on the table if they believe Congress will renegotiate an agreement.
Trade promotion authority, and the trade agreements it will enable, is the best way to bring down foreign barriers to U.S. products and services. Our market is already largely open to foreign imports. Shouldn’t we demand that other nations return the favor?
Fast-tracking trade agreements has another big benefit. It would promote the creation of high-paying, research-intensive jobs in the U.S. by better protecting intellectual property — everything from life-saving medicines to cutting-edge software and computing — of U.S. companies doing business overseas.
The president is the only person who can ensure that the United States will keep pace in the global competitive economy. If he is serious about seeing this important legislation passed, he should stop paying lip service to trade promotion authority and pick up the phone and urge Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and members of Congress to support it.
PHOTO (TOP): Containers are pictured at the ITS terminal at the Port of Long Beach, California, December 4, 2012. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni
PHOTO (INSERT): Containers are loaded onto the Mol Matrix in a general view of the Port of Los Angeles in Los Angeles, California, May 30, 2012. REUTERS/David McNew