Vibrant and open markets for international trade and investment are a necessary prerequisite for generating new economic growth and job creation opportunities for U.S. businesses and workers. Increased use of bilateral and regional trade and investment agreements with like-minded countries and a strong system of multilateral agreements and rules under the WTO create these opportunities by eliminating trade and investment barriers and preventing discriminatory treatment of foreign goods, services and investment. In contrast, measures that close off markets from competition or are discriminatory quickly dampen international commerce and undermine economic growth and job creation. International trade and investment agreements are also essential to ensuring fair and competitive business practices across countries. They provide the rules under which the United States and its businesses and workers can enforce their rights to open markets and prevent discriminatory treatment.
The United States initially led the way in using bilateral and regional trade agreements to expand trade quickly by opening markets more deeply and setting strong rules for international commerce. Given that 95 percent of the world’s population lives outside the United States and the rapid rise of the middle class in China, India, Brazil and other emerging markets, the United States needs to lead the way again. Today, all our major trading partners have aggressive bilateral and regional negotiating strategies to compete more effectively for these customers and grow their own economies. For instance, according to the WTO, 297 bilateral and regional trade agreements are currently in force internationally, with another 192 announced or under negotiation.
Until this year, the United States had only 11 regional and bilateral trade agreements in force. The recent passage of trade agreements with South Korea, Colombia and Panama and the ongoing Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations will help U.S. companies and workers keep pace with their foreign competitors in opening markets for U.S. businesses and workers. However, they are not enough to help U.S. businesses and workers be competitive in world markets and to ensure that high U.S. standards for trade are adopted globally.
For U.S. companies and workers to grow their exports, maintain and create jobs, and improve their international competitiveness, the United States needs an active trade and investment policy designed to open foreign markets and keep them open. For many U.S. exporters — both small and medium enterprises and larger companies — and their workers, U.S. export credit financing from the U.S. Export-Import Bank is a critical piece of such a policy. The U.S. Export-Import Bank enables them to sell their goods and services to foreign customers in today’s highly competitive international marketplace, where many foreign competitors enjoy strong export credit support from their own countries. For example, in FY2011, the bank facilitated roughly $41 billion in U.S. export sales by more than 3,600 U.S. companies, supporting nearly 290,000 U.S. jobs.
To succeed, a robust strategic trade policy requires U.S. 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. In addition to leveling the playing field for U.S. companies and workers competing abroad, improved access to foreign markets will spur domestic output and the creation of high-paying jobs in America. These benefits do not merely flow to large multinational companies. Indeed, as U.S.-based multinationals expand, they source more inputs from small businesses and the local communities that depend on them.
Competition breeds innovation, and one of America’s greatest comparative advantages is its ability to generate new ideas, products and services. Supporting the nation’s entrepreneurs, global companies, local businesses and their workers will require a strong and proactive commitment from political leaders to pursuing a forward-looking and sustained trade and investment agenda.