We are in a ridiculous state of partisan bickering. Finalizing three bilateral trade agreements ought to be an easy, no-brain way to generate jobs and growth in the U.S. economy. Yet here we are in another stalemate between the political parties, with time running out.
Since the Trade Expansion Act of 1962, which authorized the Kennedy Round, trade negotiations have greatly increased domestic prosperity while also providing assistance for displaced workers. That can happen again if we have the wisdom and common sense to say yes to the bilateral agreements with South Korea, Panama, and Colombia currently before Congress.
As a businessman advocating the merits of trade, it is easy to see the advantages for American companies. That is why I have worked actively for freer trade for over three decades. In the current environment, with Doha Trade Round negotiations stalled and other countries signing bilateral trade pacts, U.S. companies will be at a disadvantage in global markets unless we too can sign such agreements. With all the talk in Washington about competitiveness and job creation, one would think this would be an easy call.
The broad economic benefits of freer trade have never been in doubt. The "problem" with trade has always been its uneven effects--as with any economic change, there are some who gain and others who lose. And the political solution to that problem has always been to set aside a portion of the gains to fund programs to help workers (and companies) in need to adjust to new economic realities. Even after funding these programs, the overall gains to Americans--in the form of more jobs, higher income, and more consumer choice--are substantial.
In the early 2000s, I chaired a couple of studies by the Committee for Economic Development which examined U.S. trade policy and developed a comprehensive agenda for achieving open trade and addressing the hardship of those who might lose their livelihoods as a result of economic change. Our preferred solution as a country was (and is) to grab the leadership on trade. Drop the pretense that we need to give up something by lowering our trade barriers in order to gain reciprocal concessions from others. The truth is that we all gain when we stop restricting trade. Despite the support of five former U.S. Trade Representatives, two Secretaries of the Treasury, and three former Presidents at that time, Washington was not ready for such a bold step. So we took another look at the problem...