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The Time Is Now for Free-Trade Agreements | Commentary

Acrimony has become one of Washington’s defining characteristics. For almost the entirety of President Obama’s tenure, the legislative and executive branches have been at bitter odds, failing to seize big moments and enact legislation of great substance. Unfortunately, unless someone steps forward, another opportunity could soon be lost, this time, to pass free trade agreements with allies in Europe and Asia that will open markets with nearly one billion customers to American employees and employers.

Free trade means jobs, plain and simple. In fact, there are 38 million trade-related jobs in the United States. Yet despite the economic and employment benefits of trade, U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., is standing with special interest allies over his own constituents by opposing trade promotion authority (TPA). This opposition makes no sense because, in Nevada, there are 325,000 trade jobs and trade exports totaled $10.2 billion in 2012. The Nevada economy would be a major beneficiary of more open trade.

TPA is a critical tool that allows the president to negotiate agreements with the consultation from Congress. Reid’s opposition stands in direct contradiction to the position held by Obama, who prominently declared in his recent State of the Union Address that “We need to work together on tools like bipartisan trade promotion authority to protect our workers, protect our environment, and open new markets to new goods stamped, ‘Made in the USA.’”

The reason why Reid has announced his opposition to free trade is well-known. Unfortunately, he has sided with political contributors — namely union bosses who have bankrolled his campaigns totaling more than $300,000 in the 2012 election cycle alone — over the workers and businesses in the Silver State.

Lost in the conversation is the critically important role Congress has to play in this process. Trade promotion authority defines the parameters of any deal and determines the rules under which the president must operate. And, in the end, Congress has the ability to vote up or down any trade agreement it does not believe adheres to the rules they outlined. Unfortunately though, Reid chooses to ignore those facts and has decided to obstruct the process.

But the context about what’s at stake here is important. International trade supports one in every five American jobs, translating to nine million domestic jobs that are supported by exports in 2012. Moreover, workers in U.S.-based employers that export goods earn on average up to 18 percent more than workers in similar jobs in companies that do not export.

Trade agreements also allow the U.S. to work more closely with its allies and leads to strengthened military and security cooperation agreements. And our nation has a long track record of supporting trade. In fact, every president since Franklin Delano Roosevelt has used TPA to negotiate trade agreements.

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