Roll Call Op-ed - Engler: There’s Still Plenty to Do on This Trade Agenda

By John Engler

May 23rd, 2012

This op-ed first appeared in Roll Call

May 23, 2012


This year’s World Trade Week sees welcome action on several fronts.

The U.S.-Colombia free-trade agreement is taking effect and the United States is negotiating with eight other countries from the Asia-Pacific region to advance our Trans-Pacific Partnership. Also, the United States and European Union are working hard on a new and dynamic Transatlantic Partnership.

These three important initiatives will contribute to U.S. economic growth and job creation, but we can do more to compete in growing markets around the world. The United States needs an active trade and investment game plan to open more markets and keep them open.

The facts today confirm that world trade — exports and imports — is more essential than ever to U.S. economic growth and job creation, having risen from 20.4 percent of our nation’s gross domestic product in 1990 to 31.5 percent in 2011. The United States is now the second-largest exporter of merchandise in the world and the largest exporter of commercial services.

According to the Bureau of Economic Analysis, imports and exports added more than 1 percentage point to U.S. economic growth annually during the 2008-2009 recession, even as consumer spending and investment fell sharply. International trade also supports American jobs across the economy. In 1992, before the United States had entered into NAFTA, the GATT Uruguay Round agreements and a series of other trade and investment agreements, the total of trade-related jobs in the United States was only 14.5 million — 1 in 10. By 2008, trade-related jobs dependent on exports and imports had grown to 38.4 million — more than 1 in 5.

In 1933, President Franklin Roosevelt recognized National Foreign Trade Week, the predecessor of World Trade Week. He and all successive presidents have followed proclamations with action, pursuing negotiation of trade agreements to open world markets to U.S. goods and services.

Today, about 40 percent of U.S. exports go to our free-trade agreement partners, and exports to FTA partner countries are growing faster than exports to countries lacking agreements with the United States. Last year, the United States sold about $50 billion more in manufactured goods to our FTA partner countries than we bought from them. In addition, the recent FTAs with South Korea, Colombia and Panama are expected to increase U.S. exports by more than $10 billion.

With more than 95 percent of the world’s population — representing 80 percent of the world’s purchasing power — now outside the United States and growing competition from other countries for those customers, our nation’s growth and job creation increasingly depend on expanding U.S. trade and investment opportunities.

Achieving these goals requires the United States to push ahead with an active trade policy to help U.S. companies and workers increase their competitiveness and ensure that both domestic and foreign markets remain open for investment. Such initiatives should include:

  • Passing legislation to establish permanent normal trade relations with Russia before the August Congressional recess.
  • Seeking, this year, to complete a comprehensive and high-standard Trans-Pacific Partnership agreement and to launch Transatlantic Partnership negotiations.
  • Revitalizing multilateral and plurilateral talks at the World Trade Organization.
  • Providing the president with new trade negotiating authority.
  • Vigorously enforcing U.S. rights under international agreements, and constructively engaging China and other emerging growth countries to eliminate market access barriers.

To succeed, a robust trade policy requires domestic policies that will build a highly skilled workforce, strengthen America’s leadership in research and development, enforce and protect U.S. intellectual property rights around the world and institute globally competitive corporate tax policies.

Other countries are actively pursuing trade and investment initiatives to open up international markets for their companies and workers to sell more of their products and services. We need to step up our efforts on our own existing initiatives and commit ourselves to pursuing new market-opening initiatives to help further support U.S. economic growth and jobs. Simply put, we need more of a sense of urgency on trade in the United States.   


John Engler is a former three-term governor of Michigan and president of Business Roundtable.