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Trade agreements must get swift advancement through Congress

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March 18, 2015 | comments

Editorial by the Racine Journal Times

It’s rare to find Wisconsin Congressman Paul Ryan and President Barack Obama on the same sheet of music.

But that’s where they are on trade agreements with 11 Pacific nations and the importance that has for the economic future of the United States.

The refrain from Obama and Ryan is the same: If the United States doesn’t take the lead and write the rules for international trade, China will.

As Ryan, a Republican from Janesville and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, put it recently, “This is very important if we want to be in the driver’s seat of the global economy for the 21st Century. It’s also very important because 96 percent of the world’s consumers live outside this country. If we want to have good jobs and a faster growing economy, we need to make more things here and sell more overseas. And that means we need to break down the barriers that make it hard for us to sell our products overseas … our competitors are going around knocking down barriers for their products. If we don’t do the same, we’ll be blocked out.”

How important is that to folks in Wisconsin? The numbers tell that story. In a recent commentary, Laurie Fischer, director of dairy policy for the Dairy Business Association, said that last year alone Wisconsin exported a record $3.6 billion worth of agricultural products to more than 145 countries — a 13.6 percent increase over 2013.

Fischer wrote that “about 12 million American jobs depend on exports. More than 800,000 Wisconsin jobs — about one in five — depend on international trade. These trade related jobs in Wisconsin grew more than 13 times faster than our average employment rate from 2004-2013, and paid an average of 18 percent more than non-trade-related jobs.”

To those who argue that free trade will cost working people their jobs, Ryan responded it’s just the opposite. He recently told The Wisconsin State Journal, “We’re already a very open system. These countries can sell their products into our country, but we don’t have equal access to their countries. This is about us getting equal access to those markets. The other point is, trade agreements get us fair trade. They get us the rules that work for us. If you add up all the countries we have trade agreements with, we have a manufacturing surplus. If you add up all the countries we don’t have trade agreements with, with have a massive deficit.”

But as one Japanese newspaper noted this week Congress has “dallied” and has yet to submit a bill to give Obama Trade Promotion Authority (TPA) — and without that it will be unlikely that Asian leaders put forward their best offers in the broader Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) being negotiated by Obama.

Both measures need to advance rapidly. Congress should move ahead with approval of the TPA by next month, which will set the stage for TPP approval next fall. If that timetable is not adhered to, it will run aground in the muck of the next presidential elections and this opportunity may be lost.

As Ryan put it, “when we get a country to agree to a trade agreement with us, we get them to play by our rules — to have the rule of law, enforceable contracts, lower (trade) barriers, open markets … This is why a Democrat, Barack Obama, and a conservative, Paul Ryan, agree that this issue is important for our economic well-being.”

We join that chorus and we would hope that Congress isn’t tone deaf to the needs of the American people. They should act, and act now.


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