Don't Waste This Free Trade Opportunity

Congress needs to reauthorize Trade Promotion Authority now.

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The MSC Fabiola passes the Golden Gate Bridge Wednesday, March 21, 2012, in San Francisco. The Fabiola, which flies under the Liberian flag, is 1,200 feet long and 157 feet wide, making it the largest ship ever to enter San Francisco Bay. It carries a capacity of 12,500 20’ long containers, which, if laid end to end, would stretch nearly 50 miles. The vessel exhibits an evolution in containership design, the accommodation block and bridge (combined, "the deckhouse") are located forward, not directly over the engine. The split design enables containers to be stacked higher aft of the deckhouse, creating greater efficiency and loadability. Of the more than 5,000 containerships deployed around the world, only 71 have a capacity of 12,500 TEUs or more, and the MSC Fabiola is the only one to have regular port calls in the United States.

Within the next 20 years, the Asia Pacific region will need 12,820 new airplanes, valued at $1.9 trillion. Who will build them?

With half of the world's air traffic growth revolving around the Asia-Pacific region, there are massive opportunities for American manufacturing and middle-class jobs in this one sector alone. But opportunity is not destiny. In the last decade, America's share of exports to key Asia-Pacific markets fell by 43 percent. Our performance was last among our major trade competitors in the region.

We do not have to idle on the runway, however, as other foreign countries fly by. If we can regain our historical share of these export markets – which are set to approach $10 trillion by the end of this decade – it would add $600 billion to our economy and 3 million jobs by 2020 alone. The first step to seizing this growth opportunity rests with Congress and passage of a tool called Trade Promotion Authority.

[See a collection of political cartoons on the economy.]

Trade Promotion Authority is the mechanism that allows the president to negotiate international trade deals with congressional input. It gives stakeholders a voice and shows our trading partners that we are serious about expanded trade. And since American exports supported 9.8 million jobs in the United States last year, getting serious about expanded trade is critical.

The authority, however, expired in 2007, putting our economic growth at risk. Congress needs to reauthorize the authority this year so we can expand this economic engine and make sure our economy is poised for flight in the 21st Century.

Trade Promotion Authority can help ensure trade deals happen in three ways. First, it allows for both the White House and Congress to play a role in accessing foreign markets. While the executive branch negotiates agreements with foreign countries, Trade Promotion Authority allows for Congress to set clear negotiating goals and objectives. For example, in the Trade Act of 2002, Congress laid out nine overall trade negotiating objectives, from market access to environmental standards, as well as more than 50 principal negotiating objectives across 17 categories, ranging from electronic commerce to family farms. Guidance from Congress has yielded new or improved trade provisions on anti-corruption, labor and the environment, and other key emerging issues.

Second, important trading partners won't sign a trade deal with the U.S. without Trade Promotion Authority. Of the last 17 U.S. trade agreements, only a deal with Jordan in 2000 was concluded without it. This is because our trading partners need to know the U.S. is negotiating in good faith and will not turn around and alter the agreement at the last minute.

Finally, Trade Promotion Authority mandates that the president check in with the public before a deal is struck. Past legislation required the president to consult with Congress throughout negotiations. Although Trade Promotion Authority has not been in place during the Trans-Pacific Partnership negotiations, the U.S. Trade Representative has acted as though the 2002 provisions were still in effect and engaged in more than 1,000 briefings with Congress over the TPP.

[See a collection of political cartoons on Congress.]

It also ensures that industry and the public have a critical voice. Within past Trade Promotion Authority legislation, Congress built a system of advisory committees to ensure that trade negotiators were consulting with private sector representatives from the agricultural, labor and environmental communities, among others. Organizations represented on the committees ran the gamut from advocacy groups – including the AFL-CIO, the Environmental Defense Fund, Oceana, Consumers Union and the National Farmers Union – to large U.S. companies like Cargill, General Electric and Kraft Foods.

So far, the U.S. Trade Representative has been operating in good faith despite the lack of Trade Promotion Authority. Last September, more than 250 organizations sent representatives to negotiations in Leesburg, Va. But good faith is not enough. Trade Promotion Authority is needed to ensure all voices are heard.

The stakes could not be higher. As our country pulls out from the Great Recession and works to achieve lift off in the 21st Century economy, we need to seize opportunities within the new global marketplace. If the U.S. has any hope of tapping into massive export markets of the Asia Pacific – as well as other markets we are exploring such as within the EU – our policymakers need Trade Promotion Authority to get the job done.

Jonathan Cowan is president and Jeff Okun-Kozlowicki is a visiting fellow with Third Way, a moderate think tank

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