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It’s no secret that trade is taking a beating at the hands of several major presidential candidates, as well as various interest groups.
Trade supporters are right to point out its significant benefits. In the United States, trade supports 41 million jobs, and exports of manufactured goods directly supported 6.2 million jobs—about half of manufacturing employment—in 2014. And manufacturing jobs tied to exports pay wages that are typically 18% higher than those that aren’t. Trade also gives Americans access to a wide variety of affordable products that dramatically increase their purchasing power.
While acknowledging that trade creates many more winners than losers, we must also address its downsides. Changes in technology and productivity gains have led to many jobs being lost and can be disruptive. People who lose their jobs often have a hard time finding equally good-paying ones.
The answer to these problems is not to wall off our country, rip up trade agreements, or raise destructive tariffs. The answer is to recognize and help those negatively impacted by trade.
This means improving our job retraining programs. It’s always preferable to give someone a hand up rather than a handout. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has long supported workforce training programs. A law we backed in 2014 reauthorized and streamlined many federal training programs so that they work better for those who need them.
The business community is no longer leaving this challenge to bureaucrats. It is actively involved in producing our future workforce by engaging in strategic education partnerships to promote successful students, a skilled workforce, and a stronger economy. It works with community colleges and vocational schools to ensure that they focus on the real workplace needs of modern businesses.
The government and business community have a long way to go in addressing the downsides of trade, but we must keep at it.
The fact that a more integrated global economy has played a role in lifting millions of people out of poverty—and can continue to do so—makes this work urgent. The debate over trade is one we must win. There is just too much at stake.