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In his State of the Union address last night, President Obama spoke about the surprisingly ambitious trade agenda his administration has launched.
“When ninety-eight percent of our exporters are small businesses,” he said, “new trade partnerships with Europe and the Asia-Pacific will help them create more jobs.”
The U.S. Chamber couldn’t agree more. For example, take Elena Stegemann of NuStep, a small Ann Arbor-based manufacturer of exercise equipment, who recently testified before the Senate and wrote a blog post on how trade means jobs for her firm.
“If members of Congress want to do a service for their Main Street constituents, they need to start thinking globally,” she wrote. “By that, I mean creating more opportunities for small businesses to sell their goods and services beyond our borders, where 95% of the world’s customers reside.”
Both Mrs. Stegemann and the president have in mind the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) negotiations between the United States and 11 other Asia-Pacific nations. Significant progress has been made in recent months, and some analysts hope the president’s trip to Asia will be an “action-forcing event” that will bring the talks to a successful close.
They also point to trade negotiations now underway with the European Union dubbed the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP). The flow of U.S.-EU trade is so large that eliminating even today’s relatively modest barriers could bring big benefits.
But none of these agreements are possible without renewal of Trade Promotion Authority (TPA). TPA is the Chamber’s top trade priority before Congress this year.
Importantly, the president during his State of the Union address pledged to cooperate with Congress on this critical goal: “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.’”
The cost of inaction is high. “China and Europe aren’t standing on the sidelines,” the president continued. “Neither should we.”
Indeed, the world is charging ahead on trade. Just days ago, the third round of negotiations for a mammoth trade pact called the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) was concluded in Malaysia.
Every country in East Asia and Oceania is taking part in the RCEP negotiations, including Australia, China, Japan, Korea, India, and all of Southeast Asia. But the United States is excluded. Without the TPP, the United States will be stuck on the outside, looking in.
Similarly, the EU is negotiating trade pacts all around the world. It’s easier to identify countries that Brussels is not negotiating with than those that aren’t now in talks or don’t already have a trade deal in place.
America can’t stand still on trade. The president made a good start with his call to work with Congress on TPA.
But we need President Obama to continue to make the case to legislators, particularly members of his own party. He needs to work the phone and spend time on Capitol Hill every week until it’s done. It’s that important.
For our part, the Chamber is committed to doing everything we can to make the case for TPA, and we won’t rest until it is approved.