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Note: This op-ed originally was published by McClatchy, running in 44 outlets.
Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) is critical because growth and jobs at home depend on our ability to sell American goods and services to the 95% of the world’s customers living outside the United States.
Trade has been a bright spot for the U.S. economy over the past five years, with exports rising by more than 50%. About 1 in 4 manufacturing jobs depends on exports, and they pay wages that are typically 18% higher than those that aren’t. One in 3 acres on American farms is planted for consumers overseas.
However, the international playing field is often unfairly tilted against American workers and companies. While our market is generally open, U.S. exports face foreign tariffs that often soar into double digits as well as a tangle of nontariff barriers.
Trade agreements are the only way to tear down these barriers. By creating a level playing field, they help U.S. companies and the workers they employ compete in overseas markets. But without a proactive and determined trade agenda, we’ll be stuck on the outside looking in.
The benefits of our trade agreements are impressive. While the 20 countries where we have agreements in place represent just 6% of the world’s population, they buy nearly half of U.S. exports. The United States even has a trade surplus with its 20 trade agreement partners.
Consider the potential of two major agreements now under negotiation. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPP) would open the Asia-Pacific’s dynamic markets to American goods and services. TPP could boost U.S. exports by an annual $124 billion. Without it, Pacific nations will continue to sign pacts among themselves, putting U.S. exporters at a disadvantage.
Another promising deal in the works is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (TTIP), which would further remove barriers between the United States and Europe. TTIP would boost commerce and support some 740,000 new U.S. jobs, while driving comparable economic benefits across the pond.
However, the United States has never entered into a major trade deal without TPA. It’s based on the commonsense notion that Congress and the White House should work together on trade. Frankly, we could use more of that in Washington today.
TPA does not give the president a blank check; in fact, it strengthens the voice of Congress on trade. It lets lawmakers set objectives for trade negotiations and requires the administration to consult closely with Congress throughout trade talks. And, importantly, it gives lawmakers the final say on a trade deal in the form of an up-or-down vote.
TPA has been a key part of U.S. trade diplomacy since 1934 and has been regularly renewed. But it expired in 2007. Unless and until Congress renews it, the United States will be hamstrung in future negotiations.
You can’t be for trade and against TPA. Put simply, this is a chance for Congress and the White House to work together for the good of our country. Lawmakers should cast their votes for growth and jobs at home, and the president must push members of his own party to support TPA. The U.S. business community will keep the pressure on until the job gets done.