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Tom Donohue: Trade Promotion Authority Comes Down to Jobs and Must Be Renewed

Congress has just taken up long-awaited legislation to renew Trade Promotion Authority (TPA), a measure that allows lawmakers to set negotiating objectives for new trade deals and puts the United States in a position of strength in high-stakes trade talks.

The bill has the strong backing of the business community. Last week nearly 300 state and local chambers of commerce, manufacturing organizations and farm bureaus representing workers, farmers and companies of every size, sector and state sent a letter to Congress urging members to support TPA.

Why is TPA so important? In a word, jobs. Economic growth and job creation at home rely on our ability to sell American goods and services abroad — where 95 percent of the world’s customers live. With better access to customers in global markets, facilitated by TPA and new trade agreements, U.S. exporters can fill more orders and expand their payrolls.

Already, one in four factory jobs depends on exports, and one in three acres on American farms is planted for consumers overseas. All told, nearly 40 million American jobs depend on trade. And jobs tied to trade tend to pay better than others. According to the Commerce Department, manufacturing jobs related to exports pay wages that average 18 percent higher than those that aren’t.

We could have even more of these high-paying export-supported jobs, but unfortunately, the playing field for trade isn’t always level. While the U.S. market is generally open, American exports face foreign tariffs that often soar into double digits as well as a thicket of nontariff barriers. These barriers are articulately burdensome for America’s small and medium-size companies, about 300,000 of which are exporters.

But we know from experience that when we overcome trade barriers and expand exports, we also boost jobs. America’s 20 trade agreement partners represent just 6 percent of the world’s population but buy nearly half of U.S. exports. The increased trade brought about by agreements with those partners supports more than 5 million U.S. jobs.

No major trade pact has ever been approved without TPA, which expired in 2007. And the trade deals now under negotiation with the Asia-Pacific, with Europe and with the 50 countries party to a huge Trade in Services Agreement are not likely to progress without it either. It is up to Congress to quickly renew TPA and allow our country to pursue economy-lifting, job-creating opportunities around the world.

It comes down to this: If you want more jobs, you must have more trade. And to have more trade, you must pass TPA.

— Tom Donohue is president and CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. The opinions expressed are his own.

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