The ability to negotiate and implement strong free trade agreements is one of the most important tools that the United States has at its disposal to promote expanded trade opportunities for manufacturers. Such free trade agreements eliminate tariffs and other barriers to international commerce, and they set in place the basic trade rules that will protect U.S. intellectual property, innovation and investments. Today, the United States has signed free trade agreements with only 20 nations, which account for just nine percent of the world’s economic output. Yet, these 20 nations purchase roughly half of all U.S. manufactured goods exports.
Our policymakers need to negotiate and implement new trade agreements that will break down barriers, open markets and establish fair rules. The dearth of U.S. trade pacts means our manufacturers face higher barriers in foreign countries than manufacturers from many other countries. Mexico, for example, faces lower tariffs and other barriers in many foreign countries because of the 12 trade agreements it has with a total of 44 countries, including Japan and the 28 countries that are members of the European Union.
Over the past few years, our trade agenda has largely stagnated, with the last milestone occurring in 2010 when the United States ratified trade agreements with Colombia, Panama and South Korea. Those agreements themselves took four years to finalize. Manufacturers cannot afford to wait that long again.
To put the United States back on track to double exports and harness global opportunities for manufacturers, Congress and the Administration should first pursue an extension of the Trade Promotion Authority framework, which lapsed in mid-2007. This framework expedites the trade negotiation and implementation process and ensures that the Administration and Congress both have important roles to play in developing negotiating objectives and outcomes. Given the complexity of free trade agreements, which cover everything from tariffs to intellectual property protections and, increasingly, regulatory standards, the Trade Promotion Authority framework is necessary to ensure effective and timely negotiations and the implementation of such agreements.
In addition, efforts must continue to conclude a high-standard, comprehensive and open-market Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) agreement between the United States and 11 of our Asia-Pacific partners. This deal has been under negotiation for years. While time is of the essence, it is also important for U.S. negotiators to secure strong policies that address longstanding barriers in several of these markets and achieve the type of comprehensive and strong standards that are vital for manufacturers big and small. Also on the agenda is the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership (T-TIP) with the European Union. T-TIP negotiations began in July. By eliminating barriers such as tariffs, cross-border red tape and regulatory and standards differences, T-TIP would be an important catalyst for manufacturers on both sides of the Atlantic.
With a new Trade Representative and a new Secretary of Commerce, there is hope that the U.S. trade agenda can spring back to life. If Washington sits on the sidelines as other countries negotiate trade agreements without us, manufacturers and our manufacturing communities in the United States will lose. We will continue to compete with firms in China, Europe and elsewhere, but without the same advantages. The 21st century economy demands a global focus. To compete, manufacturers have to look beyond our borders. More trade means more growth, and it is time for lawmakers to unleash manufacturers and their employees so we can win the global economy.
Aric Newhouse is senior vice president of policy and government relations and Linda Dempsey is vice president of international economic affairs at the National Association of Manufacturers.