The nation’s top business lobbyist today called on the Obama administration and Congress to adopt a “robust trade expansion program” and create as many as 20 million U.S. jobs over the next decade.
“We need a smarter, broader, more comprehensive approach, a robust trade expansion agenda built on the experience of free trade agreements across the globe,” U.S. Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Thomas J. Donohue said at the National Press Club.
The U.S., he warned, is falling behind in international markets, as free trade agreements among other countries proliferate and tariffs on U.S. products remain in place. “U.S. trade policy seems stuck in suspended animation,” he said. “There’ a lot of talk, but precious little action.”
There are 262 free trade agreements in place around the world, he said, citing World Trade Organization reports, and the U.S. only has 11 pacts covering 17 countries. Many developing parts of the world, especially Asia, are beginning to meet local consumer demand with their own products, not U.S. imports.
The European Union is preparing to sign a free trade agreements with Columbia and already has one with South Korea, he pointed out, while U.S. trade agreements with those countries remain parked in Congress.
Congressional approval of those treaties should be the first plank in a broader trade agenda, Donohue said.
“It is inexcusable for Congress and the administration to be sitting on three excellent free trade agreements,” said Donohue. Without the U.S. pacts, “the EU will be able to sell products in those markets at a much better price” than U.S. companies, he said.
In a study released today, the chamber claims 5.4 million U.S. jobs are supported directly by increased trade brought about by the 14 free trade agreements the U.S. has negotiated. A total of 17.7 million jobs depend on that trade, Donohue said.
“No other budget-neutral government initiative has generated anywhere near that number of jobs,” he said, adding, “If we don’t act we will not only miss out on opportunities to create new jobs, we will lose existing jobs” to international competitors.
The U.S. lost roughly 8 million jobs in the past two years, he said, “and we will need to create 20 million in the next decade to replace those jobs and keep up with growth.”
Donohue’s chamber has clashed with the Obama administration repeatedly over issues such as climate change and energy legislation and financial reform, but it backs Obama’s call to double U.S. exports within the next five years and create 2 million jobs.
“Expanding U.S. exports makes more sense than ever,” he said. The president’s initiative “echoes” a goal set by the chamber earlier this year, he said.
He also gave the administration credit for its effort to modernize the U.S. export control regime to ease controls on widely available, non-military technologies, while urging it to do more to open markets overseas and protect U.S. intellectual property rights.
Donohue did have some tough words for labor leaders who oppose free trade agreements. “Union leaders must accept the reality that their members’ jobs depend on the growth of global trade,” he said.
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