Trying to nudge President Barack Obama into action, two leading Republican backers of international trade legislation have taken to the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal to note that the American people like the idea.
What is somewhat discouraging is that in a recent Pew Research survey, about 25 percent of Americans think involvement in the global economy is a bad thing. This makes no sense in a nation that is the heart of the global economy and dependent on the trade and the resources of others to sustain the engine of American free enterprise.
Clearly, a certain amount of selling of the obvious may be needed.
The op-ed was written by U.S. Rep. Charles Boustany, of Lafayette, a senior member of the House Ways and Means Committee, and Robert B. Zoellick, a former U.S. trade representative and head of the World Bank.
They called for a new commitment on trade issues by “an energetic executive, in partnership with Congress.”
“It’s time for Mr. Obama to persuade on trade,” the two said. “He must make use of the convening power of the executive to bolster his advocacy. His administration must work closely with Congress — to listen, explain, address problems and cut deals.”
The two Republicans are not the only folks in their party, as well as across the aisle, who believe that trade could be a fruitful opportunity for the 114th Congress, even in today’s sharply partisan atmosphere. Yet they are right that the opportunity is going to take a lot of spadework from the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue, where the president lives.
Trade matters, because it is beneficial to the broad interests of the American economy: “Manufacturing workers who produce exports earn, on average, about 18 percent more, according to the Commerce Department. Their pay raise can be traced to the higher productivity of competitive exporting businesses.”
Software and business services are huge but less tangible exports, but the authors also noted the value to the U.S. of agricultural products — not a surprising observation from Boustany, who represents an area with rice farms and cattle ranches.
The writers focused on a couple of big trade deals now in the works, one for the Trans-Pacific Partnership on the Pacific rim and another with the European Union across the Atlantic. In both cases, more free trade would generate markets for American exports, but also help drive growth in the economies that have been struggling since the 2008 crash of the financial markets. Japan and the American allies in Western Europe are driven by their own difficulties to be reasonable about lowering trade barriers and untangling international businesses from stifling bureaucracies.
If the United States’ internal politics is a difficulty, the two Republicans are right to prod the White House to move as quickly as possible. Now is the time for new deals long in the works to be struck, because the temporary market failures in other countries will eventually sort themselves out, and our trade partners’ incentive to work a deal will diminish.
“Trade policy can help re-establish America’s international economic commitment; U.S. economic interests underpin political and security ties,” Boustany and Zoellick wrote. “New economic links with key security partners on the Pacific and Atlantic rims of the Eurasian continents advance our primary geopolitical interests.”
There is a great deal of wisdom in their observations and we hope the White House is listening.