As Secretary of Commerce, I had the privilege to help forge new trade agreements for our country with allies in Asia and Latin America. I saw first hand the enormous challenges of building trading relationships and the enormous benefits that accrue to all sides when we succeed in opening our economies to each other’s goods and services.
But since leaving office, I have known the frustration of watching so much of America’s progress on opening markets squandered by a president who sees trade policy as either a political game or an afterthought. Unlike President Obama, Mitt Romney recognizes the importance of trade to our economic future, and I believe he has the combination of business experience, leadership, and conservative principles to put our economy back on the path of growth and job creation.
President Obama claimed to understand the importance of free trade, declaring in his State of the Union address: “We have to seek new markets aggressively, just as our competitors are. If America sits on the sidelines while other nations sign trade deals, we will lose the chance to create jobs on our shores.” Sadly, his habit of talking about jobs while doing nothing to further their creation has been on full display in this arena.
Upon taking office he derailed the robust and active trade agenda pursued by the outgoing Bush administration. He inherited ongoing negotiations for the Trans-Pacific Partnership with countries like Malaysia, Vietnam, and New Zealand, and immediately put them on hold. He also inherited free trade agreements (FTAs) with Colombia, Panama, and South Korea that were signed, sealed, and ready for delivery to Congress. But it has taken him nearly three years to move them forward, and their passage this week has been a bitter reminder of opportunities lost during which time we have watched competitors pass us by.
While President Obama kept America on the sidelines, other countries have been in the game. An agreement between South Korea and the EU went into effect earlier this year giving European companies a significant advantage over American ones in the Korean market. EU-Korean trade increased 17 percent in just the first two weeks.
China has been busily working to supplant our influence in our own hemisphere, making massive investments in places like Colombia that prompted the Colombian president to declare Asia “the new motor of the world economy.”
Since the United States reached its last successful agreement in 2007, Europe has negotiated or signed FTAs with twenty-five countries on five continents. China has negotiated or signed FTAs with nineteen countries on six continents.
This lack of focus on America’s trading interests is inexplicable given our current economic challenges. Ten million American jobs already rely on exports. These are good jobs, paying significantly above average, and more than one-third are in manufacturing. Yet we have only just begun tapping into the job-creating power of trade.
Ninety-five percent of the world’s consumers, and many of the fastest growing and most attractive markets for our products and services, are beyond our borders. As a result, opening new markets to our companies is one of the best opportunities to create economic growth and new jobs.
Mitt Romney offers the most comprehensive agenda for opening new markets to American goods and services. Just as importantly, Mitt is the only candidate with the skills and experience to put his plan into effect. As president, he will ensure that any pending FTAs are promptly submitted for approval by Congress. He will vigorously pursue successful completion of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And he will pursue new agreements, be they with economic powerhouses in our own backyard like Brazil, close allies like the European Union, or smaller economies across the globe that share a strong commitment to the principles of open markets and fair competition.
Perhaps the most important part of Mitt’s plan is the creation of an international partnership among like-minded nations genuinely committed to open markets and the principles of free enterprise. This partnership – the Reagan Economic Zone – would be built around a new trade agreement that sets the standard for genuine and robust competition, especially in areas like services and intellectual property that are particular of importance to the United States and other developed nations.
For Mitt, the key to effective trade policy is to create the most expansive, open, and level playing field on which American businesses and workers can compete. He believes in competition and he believes in the ability of America’s businesses and workers to win. The more markets we are able to compete in overseas, the more jobs we will create at home.
Carlos Gutierrez served as Secretary of Commerce from 2005 - 09.